It’s that time when many of us, after ringing in the New Year by partying, wearing funny hats, blowing on various noisemakers, and staying up until midnight to watch the ball drop in Times Square, are making resolutions.
If we Google “common New Year’s resolutions,” we find that nearly all these lists have the following items in common: lose weight, exercise more, save money or spend less money, quit smoking, get organized, and learn a new skill.
If we search a bit more, we discover that well over half the people making resolutions fail to keep them. Some of us, including me, often break our resolutions in less than a week’s time.
Some Helpful Suggestions
In “Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions (and How to Follow Through on Them),” Brad Zomick offers readers some excellent tips on sticking to their pledges. He recommends such tactics as selecting a resolution you feel passionate about, writing it down, telling others about it—this sharing helps strengthen your commitment—and jumping back on that wagon of resolution if you fall off. Particularly helpful is Zomick’s reminder to be as specific as possible in your intention. Instead of resolving to “lose weight,” we write down a specific, doable number of pounds we want to shed. Instead of resolving to “exercise more,” we write down the days and hours we will spend at the gym.
Now let’s look at that list of common resolutions again.
Every one of those resolutions is directed at the self. Certainly self-improvement is a worthy and noble aspiration, one to be commended. By bettering ourselves, we better the world.
Yet what if we aimed our resolutions not at ourselves, but at others?
A Different Approach
In an email from a young woman I know, she wondered what might happen if we made small acts of kindness a New Year’s resolution. Her passing remark started me thinking. We’ve all heard—and some of us have been recipients—of “random acts of kindness.” What might happen if we set ourselves the goal of deliberate acts of kindness? What might happen if instead of making self-improvement our goal, we aimed to make those around us feel appreciated or to bring cheer into their days?
These questions brought forth a mental list of what I could do for others in the new year.
Bring flowers or cookies on the first of every month to the staff at Samuels Public Library here in Front Royal, Virginia. These men and women have helped me enormously over the last three years, and the library itself has provided a fine sanctuary for reading and writing.
Bring flowers or fruit once a month to the baristas and other workers at the Happy Creek Coffee Shop. Every couple of months, I could also slip a twenty into the tip jar instead of my usual dollar. Happy Creek is my second home.
Bring flowers or treats every two months to the 619 Market near my daughter’s home. I shop here frequently because I want them to remain open.
Call a relative or a friend once every week on Sunday afternoon. Some of my siblings and I rarely communicate, not because we dislike each other but because we’re either too busy or too negligent to do so. Time to rectify that situation.
Write a letter—a real honest-to-goodness letter—to some of my grandchildren every week. Kids love to receive mail, and we’re talking a little time, an envelope, and a stamp.
Should I decide to adopt it, I thought, this “Project Appreciation” might bring more satisfaction than a rebuilding project aimed at myself. Or perhaps I could do both. (Heaven knows several areas in my personal life could use repairs.)
First, Project Appreciation (PA) might help someone besides myself: the discouraged, the sad, the young, and the worn. We live in a world in which children receive much encouragement and are often showered with praise. Not so true for adults. All too often, the boss forgets to thank his secretary for her splendid efforts. Spouses forget to praise husbands or wives for all their work and their devotion. Paying attention to the people around us is an act of much-needed recognition.
Project Appreciation would also take me out of myself. Like many people, I can become so wrapped up in my everyday affairs—work, shopping, housekeeping—that I neglect those around me, including family members and friends I love. This PA would force me to stop, abandon my self for a bit, and think of someone else.
Finally, PA just sounds like a boatload of fun to me. Changing old personal habits by way of a resolution can be necessary and beneficial, but pondering such a transition puts me into a grim mood. Giving to others is much more appealing. It’s easy, relatively inexpensive, and might bring some spark of joy into another’s day. (And yes, I recognize the dangers of ego behind these acts; delivering small kindnesses would make me feel better about myself. So be it.)
Committed (and Terrified of Failure When This Is Published)
I’m going to give PA a shot in 2020.
So here’s the schedule I’ve devised:
First week of every month: Some kind of treat or gift to the public library.
First week of every month: Some flowers or fruit to the Happy Creek crew. No pastries; they already sell baked goods. Occasional alternative to gifts: Slip a twenty into the tip jar.
First week every two months: Flowers or treats to the market near my house.
Every Sunday afternoon: Call one relative or friend.
Every Sunday afternoon: Write a letter to at least two grandchildren age 3 and up. These can be duplicates. That way, each one will hear from me at least every six weeks. (I have a platoon of grandchildren.)
I picked a specific week of commitment rather than a day because both the library and café personnel work different shifts. If I delivered on the same day every month, some would be left out. And no one wants to miss cookies.
Budget: $40 per month maximum. (A little more than the price of a gym membership here).
Reminders: Copies of this schedule will be taped on the refrigerator, the window above the desk where I write, and the dashboard of my car.
We’ll see how PA goes.
And if you decide to come along for the ride, hop aboard. This train always has room for one more.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.