This is the Sunday edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing. Americans love New Year’s resolutions because we are perpetual strivers obsessed with self-improvement. The tradition of a New Year’s celebration, paired with the desire to clear one’s debts, dates back to both the Babylonians and, later, the Romans, who pegged it to the two-faced god Janus (god of dualities and transitions!) All of that makes sense, in a Wikipedia history sort of way, but I think the contemporary understanding of resolutions has a lot more to do with how the holiday, like all American holidays, has been overloaded with significance intended to simultaneously make us feel like we’re failing personally
"You can, of course, swim against the tide. That’s exhausting in a different way, and like everyone, sometimes I have more energy to do it than others. Sometimes I’m writing a piece like this. And sometimes I’m buying a pair of overpriced kiwi bird book ends after getting a Facebook ad for them at 8 pm on a Saturday night."
I love this. So true.
Wow, so good. I think this essay for me qualifies as "things I already know, but bear repeating". That the machine is built to make us turn inward as opposed to towards each other and fix systemic problems together was exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.
Thank you for reminding me Anne Helen. Even at my age (65+) it’s too easy to get caught up in the resolution nonsense!
I used to attend this metaphysical church where the minister opened every service with the words “know that you’re enough.” While I didn’t get it at the time, that’s the real theology we need. It’s also probably the most anti-capitalistic mindset you could possibly adopt.
So much of modern American capitalism is about convincing you not only of your own inadequacies, but getting you to buy into the myth of “you can have it all.” As long as you buy this product, that is. The reality is that you can’t have it all. And that’s okay.
That ProPublica piece is essential reading... sharing widely. Love this newsletter.
I like making new year's resolutions, but I have greatly changed my approach over the years: instead of making a bunch of huge, really hard to obtain goals and then beating myself up for failing, I now make a reasonable goal and refuse to be a perfectionist about it. Also I make resolutions throughout the year and not just on January 1st.
My goal this year is to walk an average of 5,000 steps a day, which I think is a reasonable increase because my average up to Dec 31 was 2,300 steps a day. It's a reasonable expectation that if I focus on this goal that some other things I'd like to do (reduce stress, sleep better, focus on my spiritual growth, go hiking more, lose weight, travel, save money) will start to happen naturally as a result. For instance, it's only been three days and I already feel less stress, which is making me sleep better. Hiking through my local state forest on a Sunday afternoon is a lot cheaper than a Target run and gives me an opportunity to think about life, universe, and deep spiritual questions. Sure, it's not a fancy vacation, but I now want to travel around the region and visit lots of different parks that I previously shrugged off. No, walking 2,700 extra steps a day probably isn't going to make me go down several pant sizes, but it will make my current pants fit better, which I still see as a weight loss goal win.
I think the key here is that my goals, expectations, and attitude give a giant middle finger to capitalism. I'm not buying any products to achieve my 5,000 step goal, and I want to walk more because I know I will physically feel better on my 5'5", 195 pound frame if I do. The steps are just a convenient way to track improvement and my value isn't hung up on a number.
Just read this to my partner. I always look forward to your posts because they absolutely resonate with our ongoing discussions about workism and slowing the f*^# down. Admittedly, I’ve gotten a little obsessive about my goals over these pandemic months so an ongoing reminder like this one is so helpful. As always, thank you...
Raise your hand if you googled "kiwi bird bookend" as soon as you read it. Consumerism is a hell of a drug!