A whole new year! A fresh start to eradicate your many flaws, emerging from the ashes of 2017 as someone who gets their work done on time, is slim but not neurotic about food, and never wastes hours refreshing Facebook and Twitter in a glaze of apathy.
Every year, we make such promises to ourselves and promptly break them. More than 90% of resolutions fail, with 80% abandoned by February. No wonder: We tend to treat New Year’s resolutions as puritanical forms of self-admonishment, focusing on our shortcomings and increasing our guilt when we inevitably fall short of such goals. This ritualistic nagging is hardly inspiring, and dampens life rather than enhances it.
Take the most popular resolution to work out more, eat healthier food, and lose weight. This approach casts both working out and eating properly as a chore, and implicitly shames your old self for your regular habits. Then there are plans to stay off booze or spend less money—well-meaning and occasionally necessary, to be sure, but inevitably casting a tinge of guilt over all merry evenings and purchases for the rest of the year. And, of course, there are various self-improvement mantras: Worry less, be more mindful, stay calm and look on the bright side. These resolutions are meant to make you happier, but they also mean that when you do, inevitably, start to worry, you then have the added burden of fretting about how you’re failing to keep your zen.
Surely it would be far healthier and happier for us to to reflect upon our most delightful indulgences of the past year, and resolve to do more of them. Consider a friend who, a few years ago, resolved to have more sex. He already had plenty of sex; his resolution didn’t point to a deficiency or insecurity. He simply decided that he liked sex and, when the opportunity arose, he would enjoy it in the year ahead. His resolution shouldn’t and couldn’t be universally taken up—there are plenty of good reasons to be hesitant about sex, and it’s always best to trust your instincts if you’re uncertain about a certain partner. But for my friend, his resolution led only to interesting and positive experiences.
The spirit of his decision can be applied to all kinds of other exuberant, life-affirming resolutions. Another friend announced that her New Year’s goal was to get into gin. There’s no notion of self-improvement driving this decision: She doesn’t want to learn about gin, visit gin regions, or move away from more carb-laden drinks. This is purely about enjoyment.
The point of indulgent resolutions isn’t to think of some highbrow pursuit you feel you ought to do more of—like reading great literature or going to interesting lectures. Instead, it’s about recognizing what brings you sheer, unadulterated joy, and making space for it in the coming year. Perhaps you want to drink more port (an unfashionable but delicious beverage), prioritize dog-sitting cute puppies, or get a whole sleeve of henna tattoos.
I’ve toyed with non-puritanical resolutions in the past. Last year, I resolved to eat fewer salads in 2017, after I realized just how nutritionally empty they are. This allowed me to relish heartier foods without guilt, but it doesn’t feel quite as indulgent or frivolous as more sex and gin.
This year, I’m stepping up my game. I have two indulgent resolutions. First, I love to travel, so I want to leave my home in New York—even for a weekend away or a work trip—every month this year.
Second, I’ve realized that—contrary to my somewhat cynical self-image—I like being physically affectionate with friends. (Assuming they enjoy hugging too, of course.) And so I’ve decided to embrace embracement in 2018. This is far from a cool, impressive resolution. Frankly, I think it’s a little embarrassing and ridiculous. But I also think it will make me happier this year. And surely happiness, rather than betterment, should be the true point of turning over a new leaf.