The actor Jeremy Irons once announced that his New Year Resolution was to smoke more cigarettes than he’d done in the previous 12 months. Whether he kept to his vow isn’t known, but 13 years on he is still merrily puffing away.
Planning to take up a bad habit or do more of something that you know isn’t good for you may sound daft, even suicidal. But in many ways it makes sense.
At the start of a new year, determining to DO something rather than NOT do something is more likely to work, because one’s positive and the other’s negative.
Determining to do something you WANT to do is also more likely to happen than donning a hairshirt in pursuance of a ‘better’ you. Allen Carr recognised this in his Easyway approach to helping people quit smoking and drinking – by the time you’ve read the book or been on the course, you’ve completely lost your appetite for booze and fags.
The reason most New Year resolutions fail before January is out is that they’re invariably centred on self-denial. And when life is difficult enough already, who really wants to forego one of the few things – such as chocolate, wine or spending the weekend chilling out on the sofa – that provide easy enjoyment?
The best way to make life better in 2013, then, is to promise to do something new that you fancy doing, such as – for me – taking up yoga. I’d get fitter if I trained to run a marathon, but that’s a step – or, rather, several thousand steps – too far.
One thing I’ve been doing more of recently, however, is simply appreciating my present state of health, which so far is holding up, despite my advancing years and hedonistic inclinations.
This has come about as a result of my parents’ swift deterioration: Up until 18 months ago, both were healthy and sprightly, despite being in their 80s. Then my father had a serious stroke, from which he will never recover, and is now in a care home. My mother developed a condition that severely impinges on her ability to walk and is also plagued with severe arthritis in her arms and shoulders.
Having witnessed their sad decline, I now find myself enormously thankful to be able to do the simplest things – swing my legs out of bed, walk downstairs, drive the car, go shopping.
Because my parents can no longer get out into the fresh air unaided, I am conscious of taking an inordinate amount of pleasure from merely walking through the nearby beech wood, listening to the birds and feeling the cold air on my face.
Life, as we know, is made up of lots of little things. If we can only learn to enjoy, or at least appreciate, more of these, our sense of wellbeing generally will improve. And the better our sense of wellbeing, the healthier – emotionally as well as physically – we’re likely to become. A bit like ‘taking care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’.
So, however trite this might sound, if you’re already despairing of sticking to your New Year resolutions, ditch them all, right now, and do only this: luxuriate, every day, in all the good things that are already yours.