Every year you read the same dreary articles about how new year’s resolutions never work.
Objectively, these are complete bullshit.
It’s nothing to do with a new year. The problem is that almost all resolutions fail.
Low fat dieting, for instance, over the last forty years (since carbohydrate industry-backed government decided fat was evil) has failed in more than 95% of medically supervised cases.
No one likes to hear that they are chemically wired for literally every proclivity -from body shape to salt tolerance to what colour we like to paint our bedrooms to how much we love our kids to whether we ‘love’ other people’s kids- but this neurological conclusion is largely unassailable.
You know who knows this? Advertisers, social workers, progressive psychiatrists, public defenders, CIA interrogators. Really anyone who has to play with the Dark Side.
You know who needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to this realisation?
Personal trainers, religious people, public prosecutors, Republicans and other right wing fruitstorms… really anyone who doesn’t want to look at the fact that willpower is finite and free will -like the idea of the Etre Supreme itself- is an Enlightenment fantasy that leaves only tantalising traces of its presumed existence.
We are meat robots. End of story.
However we are meat robots with a flaw.
Most resolutions fail. But new year’s resolutions fail slightly less. And in a game of long odds even a slight shortening is better than none.
So go ahead. Take a month off booze. Join the gym. (Just don’t do it for weight loss because it absolutely doesn’t work. Do it for the actual health benefits regular exercise provides.) Resolve to do whatever you want to do.
And then wait a year to measure the absolute uplift in your overall happiness. Small increases need longer timeframes to be seen by the human eye.
That’s how you measure a year.
With that in mind, let’s cast a look backwards at a fairly universally regarded year of shitness:
2011 has been like one big end-of-season finale; a climactic episode in which multiple story arcs come to a head. It’s used up far too much news for one year. How can 2012 possibly compete?
Raking through the feces of 2011 with my bare fingers, a few gems emerge. 2011 was the year in which I turned thirty so it was bound to contain a few milestones forced through at the last moment.
Let’s look at some.
Well, what can I say? Another mixed bag here but that’s to be expected with the Euro’s continued collapse (it will collapse this year) and extremely high unemployment putting a damper on salary inflation.
But, in a Euro-first for me, I only changed jobs once in 2011. And I only came within a day of being fired from that job once as well. Also the number of work lunches I have to host were drastically reduced which my waistline is exceedingly pleased about.
Not being fired is a good thing, as I rather like my job and definitely like my company. Good people, good brand, good mission.
Oh! And I’m now speaking at industry events and the such so on balance… things are on the up. Not in any financial way (I took a twenty percent pay cut voluntarily to take this job) but in that ultimately more important “wholesale uplift in general happiness” way.
Obviously a big one for me.
And not just because I’m a big fat gay. As previously mentioned, my relationship with food is the yardstick by which I measure how much being away from my hometown for more than a third of my life so far has changed me.
This probably sounds completely alien if you live somewhere like my hometown but I walk five minutes out my door and I’m in the same shops Anna Del Conte patronised for thirty years.
When my sister was visiting over the last few days she was complaining about how bad the supermarkets are in Hong Kong. And actually, she went on to say, the four years spent in Paris before that weren’t much better.
But I’m in West London. I have died and gone to supermarket heaven. I defy you to find a better range/quality/cost ratio anywhere on the planet. It’s like living by the beach and not using it. Why wouldn’t you take this opportunity to get better at cooking?
So then… which change provided the biggest material uplift in the food category (apart from working for Europe’s largest review site)?
The switch to “mostly vegetarian” cooking. I’ve been proper vegetarian twice in my life but always ended up coming back. Probably what I was looking for was a much more medieval way of viewing food: meat is for high holidays, otherwise eat mostly vegetables, always eat something that will eventually decay.
I am objectively healthier and objectively better at cooking than I was this time last year.
There wasn’t much of a freak out at my actual thirtieth but there was a moment in the subsequent days when the siblings and then the parents and then the friends started to fade away and return to the other side of the world.
A moment that was slightly teary… but obviously in a manly way. (I drank a beer and belched while crying.)
Then about a month later I was slowly and unreasonably being almost-fired due to circumstances that had absolutely no bearing on my ability or output. (Don’t even think about working in Europe at the moment. Even Martin Sorrell says so.)
So for a few days there moving home to a booming economy -albeit temporarily- started to look pretty good.
Except -as evidenced by the London photos all over this blog- I turned it around at the last minute, possibly just to be theatrical. And now I’m in the situation where -when I’m in a good mood and I remember this- I have friends and family all over the world. Which is a better scenario because I’m still not sure where/if I belong. Even over the holiday season I ended up with a couple of siblings and some really good friends. Christmas fucking miracle.
There have been several times throughout the year when I’ve caught myself expressing visible gratitude for the people who both regularly and sporadically begrudgingly spare me some time.
2011 saw an absolute uplift in the number of genuine or lifelong companions. (Full disclosure: I’m counting a family birth to beef up these numbers even though we’ve never met. I should totes be the Chancellor or some shit. My math is king.)
Finally after moving cities a couple of times and the first credit crunch and redundancies and the collapse of the pound followed by the imminent collapse of the euro… closing in on the fourth year of living in the UK I got the continental existence I always pictured. (Also Easyjet was in the picture.)
So, in approximate chronological order of places visited in 2011:
- Iona (I count it as separate)
- Lake District
- Hamburg (various times from May till December)
- Manchester (really hadn’t been before. I like it.)
- Frome (for my thirtieth so it counts even though it’s really close to places I’ve been a bunch of times)
- South Of France: Sete & Marseilles (and Carcassone but don’t tell anyone)
- Paris again
- Bristol (only once but it was to see an amazeballs play so it counts)
Not too shabby given we almost pulled the “back to the Antipodes” ripcord. German Christmas markets, being invited to free dinners in palaces, visiting Talisker, swimming in the Med, hanging out with Facebook management while F8 streamed on a big screen, catching new theatre, blagging my way into VIP areas… also some Easyjet flights. This is what it’s about. (Except Easyjet.)
Again, this is a substantial uplift on the year before so it’s a huge resolution win.
It occurs to me I haven’t actually left the EU since I first entered it but the coming months will fix that. (Hello Fiji and the East Coast!)
Here’s the other good thing about prioritising novelty over familiarity. You end up doing a whole bunch of ‘firsts’ which were probably never on your list but turn out to be awesome in the doing anyway.
If I were to ever give resolution advice (and I wouldn’t) it would be to have more firsts.
- Saw Dolly Parton live in concert thanks to a birthday surprise.
- Gave my first large-ish media industry presentation in London.
- Saw several piece of the True Cross at the British Museum.
- Ate at a multi-michelin star restaurant. (My previous maximum was one star.)
- Went to my first ever German media conference. (They drink in the exhibition hall. It’s awesome.)
- Swam in the Med. (Historically we seem to do coastal areas in the off season.)
- Got invited to submit some writing to a proper book.
- Went to my first French vineyard. (The only place I appear to be able to speak and understand French.)
- Saw La Dame à La Licorne in the flesh (fabric).
- Got invited to be part of a Japanese documentary about the British Museum.
- Went to several academic lectures at the British Library.
- Flew through a snow storm.
- Developed the ability to tell where a whisky comes from. From tasting it, obviously.
- First time in a Royal Castle. (Balmoral.) Also a Royal Palace. (Holyrood.)
- First time (and then many times) taken to lunch by Google.
- Met and then did not recognise a moderately famous musician whom I shall not name.
- Made homemade pâté. (It’s good.)
- Wrote an elegaic poem.
- Saw my mother’s childhood home in London.
- Saw my first play at the National. (2011 was a great year for me and theatre.)
- Bought then destroyed my first maslin pan.
- Hit the tiles in Londontown with my ol’ Herald boozing partner.
- Went engagement ring shopping on Hatton Garden. (Also with Donna.)
- Got invited to Berlin all-expenses-paid by a guy with a net worth of more than USD $125 mill on a drunken whim.
- Consulted for one of the Spotify founders.
- Tried Moroccan, Lebanese and Hungarian wines for the first time. All were actually quite good.
- Saw my first deer in the wild. Like, proper wild deer.
There are more, of course. But still, it’s hopefully a good sign in life that your list of firsts continues to grow rather than shrink each year.
Coming in close second to firsts are seconds. (Read it again, it’s right. I checked it.) There’s some kind of ideal ratio of firsts to seconds, I’m sure.
Seconds are those moments you have technically had before but still set your heart racing. A smile. The first rhubarb of the season. The smell of snow in the morning.
My bus is on a detour at the moment and every time it turns right onto Regent Street I feel the rush. Especially at Christmas. This is London. 2011 happened to me in London. That can’t be all that shit in the end.
Seconds, then, are the absolute best way to measure a year. Not in minutes, not in hours, not in days… but in the number of times in your daily life the sheer fact that you exist makes you catch your breath.
There’s a resolution for you. More seconds.
Happy new year.