Nobody ever looks forward to January. It's a lousy month for everybody--except divorce lawyers and psychiatrists, who enjoy it as peak season.
A lot of experts have tried to blame January's depressing reputation on the rotten weather or cabin fever or something called post-holiday letdown, but it's pretty plain the real reason is the New Year's resolution.
By Jan. 15, everyone who made a New Year's resolution is either depressed at the prospect of another week of grapefruit and hard-boiled eggs, feeling like a dismal failure for giving in to the urge to bite just one little fingernail, or threatening to leave the once kindly spouse who has turned into a monster while attempting to give up cigarettes.
Face it. Normal people simply were not made to follow through on the New Year's resolution. A resolution, by definition, requires an unwavering determination most of us don't possess for things like fending off a taste of cheesecake. People who have real resolve do things like climb the World Trade Center or cross the Pacific in a hot-air balloon. Surely this makes the truly resolute a little wacko.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that resolution success is reserved for the lunatic fringe, I keep resolving myself into failure. And every year I spend the last half of January being depressed that I bought a new pair of shoes on sale, instead of living up to my annual resolve to "absolutely, positively start a new, untouchable savings account."
The only resolution I ever made successfully was the year I resolved to get pregnant. I'm convinced this is only because my husband helped me out, and even then it took until November.
The problem with a lot of New Year's resolutions is that they're based in denial. We're all convinced that if we like something enough to make a habit of it, it must be bad. So, come January, we're dying to give up our addictions.
This is the dark side of our Puritan heritage: You can't be a good person unless you're miserable. It's the only possible explanation for my resolution to give up chocolate, when in my heart I know it should be one of the basic food groups.
Those of us who haven't succumbed to the American tradition of denial in January are probably tinkering with our personalities, or something else that functions reasonably well the rest of the year. You can bet, for instance, that the itemized income-tax return was some bureaucrat's idea of a New Year's resolution.
While there might appear to be a trend in "new personality" resolutions, the truth is they are just a rehash of the old "less and more" school of resolve. In the old days, for example, one might resolve "to be more thoughtful." Today, the same resolution is "to get in touch with my feelings."
Over the years, I've tried them all. I've learned that for every good intentioned resolution there is an equal and opposite reason for vacillation.
A Dieter's Downfall
For instance, if you resolve to lose 10 pounds by the end of January, inevitably Plan B will follow--lose 5 pounds--and, finally, Plan C--maintain weight. Then, it becomes evident that there's nothing else to do in January besides sit in front of the tube with a bowl of popcorn and a bag of M&Ms.
I've discovered that if you resolve to stop nagging a spouse about washing the dishes, you will spend a fortune on paper plates and three days scraping dried egg yolk off the good china. Decide that spanking is a negative form of discipline and the 4-year-old will use the first chapter of your novel to try out his new finger-paints.
January is simply too full of built-in reasons for failed resolutions. How can you take up jogging when it's snowing? Who can keep his temper when the W-2 form arrives? What's the sense in a diet when bikini season is still months away? Who can save any money with all those sales going on?
Despite the fact that January is the same every year, I never realize these things until it's too late--usually some time between the 10th and the 15th. Then, I have to spend the rest of the month kicking myself and feeling fat, lazy and broke. I have to worry about dying of cancer because I can't quit smoking and feel guilty that my son's creativity is stunted for life because I took away his finger-paints. Worse, I have to bear these things alone because my friends are all busy drawing up divorce papers or feeling dejected about an ice cream binge.
It's really a lousy time for resolution anyway. Even if we'd made it through January, there's still all those months and months of February to go.