THE SANTA CLARA
January 30, 2014
Every year, people rack their brains thinking of ways to improve their lives, be better people or make this year their year.
Well, that’s just too much pressure.
How can you improve yourself when you have the burden of a resolution to live up to?
When winter quarter began a few weeks ago, the Pat Malley Fitness and Recreation Center was packed full of people who resolved to get physically fit. Now, three weeks later, the gym is as empty as it was before the new year.
But why should those people who neglected their workout feel bad? What if they were too busy with a million other things? What if they want to work out again later? Where do they stand on their resolution?
Clearly, New Year’s resolutions put too much pressure on us. Forbes magazine found that only around 8 percent of people actually accomplished their resolutions last year. That’s less than 1 in 12 people.
Should the other 11 of us be ashamed? Of course not. It’s not that we don’t want to become better people. If that were true, we wouldn’t have made the resolution in the first place. The inherent problem is that life keeps getting in the way.
The choice shouldn’t be between life and resolutions. The happiness we’re looking for should be found in our lives to begin with.
The pressure to uphold the responsibility of a resolution takes away the spontaneity of life. If there really is something worth changing, there is no right or wrong time to make a change for the better. There is no need to designate a special time of the year to work on improving your life or making yourself a better person.
This quarter, I’m taking a class called “The Science of Happiness.” As a class, we’ve been challenged to complete a 21-day, complaint-free exercise. Not voicing a single complaint for 21 days is as difficult as it sounds, but it’s also beyond rewarding.
The theory behind this is actually pretty simple. The hedonic treadmill — different from the kind of treadmill we vowed to spend more time running on — refers to the notion that once we keep receiving, we want more and more. Our determination for satisfaction is rarely satiated and the social comparisons we make toward others’ resolutions leave us less happy than before.
Our brain works by focusing on anticipatory thinking through planning, and making choices for what we believe will make us happy in the future. But when we do that, it’s nearly impossible to stay grounded in the present. Resolutions are an embodiment of anticipations of the future, but they may do more harm than good because they take us away from the now.
And typically, what we think we want in the future is not actually what we want when the moment comes.
That is when the complaining begins again. When we create New Year’s resolutions, we often create ones that are difficult or unrealistic. The obvious solution is to stop making resolutions and start being happy.
My class is working toward substituting complaints for expressions of gratitude. Practicing this conscious act of appreciation has taken me to a much more fulfilling place than a New Year’s resolution ever has.
A significant portion of each person’s happiness is made of an active pursuit of happiness, meaning that we’re in control of our own happiness, regardless of a resolution to do so.
So, this year everyone should aim for happiness. Forget resolutions, goals and the pressure to complete them, but focus on the little things that can brighten your life. Resolve to go 21 consecutive days without complaining, and replace those complaints with an expression of gratitude.
See how happy you are then.
Alexandra Armas is a senior communication major.