This is supposed to be the time when we review what happened last year, evaluate the progress (or lack thereof) we’re making in our lives and come up with a plan to make this upcoming year better.
But does anyone actually do that?
We talk about things we’ll do differently in the new year, resolutions we’re making to lose weight, find a new job, volunteer somewhere, try religion again, be more kind and attentive to others, and on and on.
It isn’t that difficult to identify things we can do better. But it’s trickier to actually do things differently in our lives.
The message of a movie I saw recently was this: If you could see your whole life laid out from start to finish, would you change even a minute of it?
The movie basically taunted New Year’s resolutions — if we knew what was ahead for us in life, would we really change the way life would unfold?
In this movie, the star’s future included having a daughter who would die at a young age of an incurable disease. Armed with the knowledge that her as-yet unborn daughter was going to die anyway, should she still become pregnant?
Her future also included a divorce, followed by a life of what appeared to be lonely solitude. But the soon-to-die daughter, created through her failed marriage, also opened the door to an important breakthrough in linguistics that would make her famous and, since this was a movie, save the world.
Now, all of that is more information — and a more tempting conclusion — than we typically have to work with while contemplating our own futures. We’re more likely stuck with less sexy issues: If I quit the job I hate, how will I pay the rent? If I ditch the spouse I can’t stand, can I actually find anyone I like better who also will like me? If I choose not to believe in God, what if He turns out to be real and isn’t that happy about my decision to blow him off?
Generally, to get from Point A to Point B, something has to take a back seat. Job success involves working harder, and that usually comes at the expense of family and friends. Leaving behind a bad spouse is mentally and often financially wrenching, and it’s easier just to be mildly content as opposed to actually happy.
If we knew our precise future, it might make today’s decisions easier to make. But I wonder if that precise knowledge of the future would simply weigh us down with doubts about other decisions we could make and other paths we could take — resulting in the same life-in-quicksand we’re already pretty good at living.
I’m starting to think planning too far ahead is just going to give me a headache, just as making a bunch of resolutions I won’t keep anyway will lead to just another disappointing year.
I don’t think this would make a scintillating movie plot, but maybe it’s just a better idea — or more realistic — to keep our heads down, trudge on and hope we’re faced with the same issues a year from now.
At least that would mean we’re able to put another notch on our belts for surviving, if not actually thriving. And there’s something to be said for surviving.