If making New Year's resolutions worked, I would be down to some pretty insignificant flaws by now. I mean, I'm 44.
If I started picking weaknesses to iron out at the age of 10 and the method had merit, I'd be on my 34th worst trait by now. At this point, my goals would be along the lines of, "Find out what's on the other side of godliness from cleanliness," and, "Try not to let the glow of my perfection make others uncomfortable."
In fact, though, well into my fifth decade, I'm mostly just a mass of grotesque emotional, physical, mental and spiritual shortcomings. I know doctors say humans are about two-thirds water, but I'm pretty sure I'm about 72 percent flaw, 22 percent fat and 6 percent hair, most of which no longer even grows from my scalp.
The thing nobody ever warned me about was the extent to which, by this point in life, my resolutions wouldn't work even if they worked.
Take a pledge like, "In 2005 I'm going to get serious about going to the gym."
Yes, I once was one of those sheep-eyed, wandering newbies with shiny just-purchased running shoes and T-shirts who appear in your gym in January. Like pudgy, easily distracted locusts, we take up all the parking, hog the water fountain and sit backward on the lat-pull-down machine hefting five pounds and grunting like Martina Hingis. But I stuck. Now, 10 years later, I'm a committed runner and weightlifter.
So that resolution worked, except that the point wasn't to acquire a new 15-hour per week OCD symptom. The point was to become a total hottie, which didn't work at all. I'm the same fat guy I was a decade ago, but with more active jiggling. Ditto my 2006 promise to eat healthier. I eat a little bit healthier every year, and my metabolism gets a little slower and . . . cue the jiggling.
I also used to resolve to be more careful with money and to work harder in the hopes of making more, and I nailed it. I'm more careful with money and I make more but I still don't have a dime to my name (I have a teen daughter instead).
Studies in the past few years show that people get happier as they age. One poll of 340,000 people conducted for a study released in 2010 covered people ages 18-85. Led by Stony Brook University professor Arthur Stone, it showed that people are pretty happy at 18, get gradually more miserable every year until they turn 50, and then start feeling better each year all the way up to 85.
I wonder whether, as we age, we start to realize what's worth wishing for. Or perhaps just come to see what we'll never get. This year I resolve to be more grateful for all the good in my life. It just seems that appreciating what I have may be a more efficient way to improve my lot than always wishing for more.