Ok, I'm a bit late. All the fuss has died down, the gyms are already full (for at least the next couple of weeks), diets have no doubt started in earnest and your Facebook feed is full of smug sweaty people showing off how many miles they've swum/cycled/run/hopped and how much weight they've already lost.
The truth is, I tried to write a post about New Year last week but was too bloody depressed. After watching the fabulous Charlie Brooker's 2015 Wipe (if you don't love Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas yet, you should) it reminded me of all the awful things that happened during 2015, and my hope for the future was a little drained. His maniacal laugh at the end of the programme was mirrored by me drinking champagne and blowing around little balls of polystyrene at midnight on New Year's Eve - if the world's going down the pan, might as well have some fun and a nice glass of bubbly.
This might be why the usual barrage of New You stuff seems to be a little less this year. Or maybe I'm just getting better at filtering it. There are just as many posts about positive steps related to mental health as there are about eating and drinking less. It would be nice to think that, in the wake of the disasters of last year, we're willing to admit that we're all a bit more fragile than we let on.
But it's all still out there. From my peripheral vision (and too many adverts on the Underground) I can tell that there's something new called the SIRT diet (no, I don't want to know what it is. Take Eddie Izzard's advice - eat less, move more). No doubt there's some new 'superfood' that will instantly go up by about three times the price, we can expect a new fitness craze, the next new language to learn, yadda yadda.
Will any of this actually make us happy? It seems to me that an awful lot of resolutions are based around the same trilogy: appearance (all too often, alas, not health), money, career. All these things that keep us toiling away on the capitalist treadmill, trudging towards some perceived goal that will probably not do much for our self-esteem or happiness, because the whole point of the market of self-improvement is that you never quite get there. A further, almost-reachable goal is placed in front of us, so we never stop worrying about it, or, more importantly for businesses, spending money on it. However, it appears that even the stuff that's supposed to make you feel more fulfilled as a person (learning a new instrument/language, yoga, reading books) are not the things that will lead to you feeling like your time on this rock has been well spent.
A fascinating study, which amazingly has managed to continue producing data generations after it began, made some rather telling findings about people's lives. It looked at two groups of people, one from privileged backgrounds that were Harvard educated, and one that were from the poorest areas in Brooklyn. Funnily enough, having more money or job security hardly factored at all in their measure of well-being. More importantly, because the study happened during their life, it was based on day-to-day perceptions of happiness, rather than hindsight, which changes the way we see things.
The key was, simply enough, other people. Maintaining meaningful, healthy, positive and trusting relationships was the key factor that affected their lives. And not just their happiness. Those that were lonely were far more susceptible to ill-health, to dying younger and developing dementia. Similarly, a survey into the biggest regrets that people had in their lives found that most of the causes were related to relationships. Failing to spend time with children or parents, losing touch with cherished friends, allowing grudges and worry to take up time that could have been spent with people you care about.
It's not surprising, but it's much harder to achieve than you'd think. Just over three years ago, I moved away from Southampton. I'd lived there for over six years, building up relationships with friends, colleagues, people in local groups. My leaving party was massive. All these people, sad to see me go. Promises were exchanged about meeting up, staying in touch, visiting. And here I am, barely talking to any of these people any more, except the odd Facebook update. The only two friends that are still genuinely still in my life also now live in London. Maintaining relationships is really hard. Much harder than keeping up with a gym membership, regularly making your own raw juice, or attending a new fitness class. True closeness comes from a lot of time investment, trust, communication, putting someone else before you. In the hectic pace of the modern world, it's all too easy to scratch out your so-called 'social' arrangements for all the other things that seem far more important; I have to work, I've got a pile of marking, the flat needs cleaning, there's that tax return I've got to get on top of, I'm just so tired.
What we're compromising is more than a quick catch up. Other people are our lifelines. In every sense of the word. The only resolution you need to make this year is to make more time for those already in your life, or to re-connect with those you may have lost touch with. It just might save your life. Now that's better than kale.
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