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Sunday, October 23, 2016

It’s that time of year when Americans — ever the strivers, according to Alexis de Tocqueville — turn to thoughts of self-improvement. What’s your New Year’s resolution?

Mine is simple enough: I’m forgoing New Year’s resolutions. I’m going to remain my shabby, unimproved self and be happy about it. What better way to start 2015?

Once upon a time, I was quite the dedicated maker of New Year’s resolutions, which ended up broken halfway through February. More than once, I recall, I resolved to forswear profanity. What a &#!* idea that was! (Sorry, Mom.)

While having a youngster in the house has calmed my cussing a bit, I’m still prone to an outbreak that would shame a sailor every now and then. It’s quite the stress-reliever, and — contrary to popular belief — is not a sign of a poor vocabulary. My lexicon of cuss words is, in fact, rather well developed. I don’t know how to spell them all, but I can repeat them with clarity and stellar enunciation.

Perhaps my most repeated resolution has been the claim that I’m going to get organized. Well, that’s just nuts. My lack of organizational skills is a congenital defect, and fixing it would require a personality transplant. So I’ve learned to live with it.

My home workspace is perennially a fire hazard; I store important documents so I can find them later, only to forget where I put them; I’m constantly forgetting loved ones’ birthdays. (No, no, I don’t need any more calendars. I have several, digital and analog. But I forget to look at them.) By now, my friends and siblings know that birthday cards will show up several days late, so I just buy the “Sorry I forgot” cards weeks in advance.

It’s taken me a few decades, though, to give up on the idea of a new and improved version of me. It’s tempting to believe that the right books, the right lectures or the right seminars can lead to a better life.

Apparently, the notion is deeply embedded in American culture, threaded through our civic and social fabric. Back in the mid-19th century, de Tocqueville, the visiting French historian, found that “equality suggests to the Americans the idea of the indefinite perfectibility of man.”

Perhaps that explains why self-improvement is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States. Go to any bookstore, and you’ll find a self-improvement section, with explicit instructions on eating better, sleeping better and, of course, looking better. You’ll be told you can be a better husband or wife, son or daughter, mother or father. And you can certainly be richer. I’ve read 7 Habits, 21 Secrets, and 10 Days to …, well, just fill in the blank.

There are classes to take. Erhard Seminars Training (EST), which started in the ’70s, has evolved into The Forum, which urges you to “redefine what’s possible.” There are motivational speakers to listen to in person or on digital media. You can spend hundreds of dollars to sit in a hard chair in an auditorium for a day of speeches by the rich and famous — sessions that may not improve you very much but certainly help the speakers.

In my childhood, there was Norman Vincent Peale, telling you the “Power of Positive Thinking.” These days, there’s Oprah — a self-improvement industry unto herself. There’s even a career path called “life coach.” Who knew? I thought that’s what parents were for.

Having tried and failed at self-improvement, I’m ready to settle in with my bad habits. I’m not going to count the number of steps I take each day en route to better health. Indeed, I’ve already lost the gadget that was supposed to help me keep track. (Did I mention I’m disorganized?)

I’m not going to be neater. I will continue to step over assorted files on the floor of my study and crawl through the dust bunnies under my bed when I lose a sock. My clothes will not be organized by season. (I will try to sort the clean laundry from the dirty, but I won’t always succeed.)

I am, however, going to be content with my unimproved self. That I firmly resolve.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at [email protected]

Photo: gigi_nyc via Flickr

  • charleo1

    The author’s cautionary advise is well taken in my own particular case.
    I stopped drinking, and lost all my friends. Most immediately, the others more painfully, one, by one. They just stopped taking my calls down at the bar???? I stopped smoking, and my wife, (a smoker) filed for divorce. Something about insufferable, ongoing differences. Now I’m enrolled in a group that claims to cure that lonely feeling I feel, when I’m alone. I signed up right after my determination to finally, “get in shape,” precipitated that knee surgery I’d been putting off. Happy New Year to all my friends here @ NM!

    • joe schmo

      LOL, isn’t that the truth. The best thing to do Charleo is to grow out of those things at an early age like my spouse and I have done. We did all our craziness early on and withdrew from the drinking and carousing crowd. We both have never hit the drugs. We chose to live a healthier lifestyle and attract friends who are much like us. Going to the gym is a great idea. Knee surgeries are so well done nowadays I’m almost sure you will be able to walk some. Walking increases the endorphins and makes you a happier person. Eating healthy is another option. GAPS and SAD diets are healthy to eat for a couple of months and, if you are heavy, will help you lose weight.

      Well, what do you expect from two Californians. California is a health conscience state to begin with. Happy New Year to you too eventhough you probably wouldn’t call me a friend….LOL. Look at it as a new fantastic start to a great new beginning:)

    • Independent1

      Happy New Year Charle!! And if that knee surgery is still in the future – here’s to a smooth, easy recovery!!

      • charleo1

        Thank you my friend! And to you, and yours as well. p.s. I was kidding, a little about the knee. Trying to be witty? I did quit drinking though, about 20 years ago, and did lose most of my drinking buddies. Not a great loss as it turns out. My wife, she still puts up with me. (Thank God, because no one else would.) And my kids, 37, & 33, still call me, “Dad.” A thrill that never seems to get old, even as I certainly am. So, another year. Each one granted, more precious than the last.

  • Buford2k11

    Heheh, I finally found the ONE resolution I have been able to maintain for years…In the year of our Lord 2000, I resolved to never make a New Year’s Eve Resolution ever again…BINGO…

  • plc97477

    I firmly resolve to learn to live with and be happy with who I am.

    • Independent1

      Sure sounds good to me!! Have a Happy & Healthy New Year!

      • plc97477

        Same to you. Have a great 2015!

  • Louis Allen

    Cynthia dear:
    Instead of saying “I’m going to remain my shabby, unimproved self and be happy about it.”, you could (more succinctly but not less precisely) have said: “I’m going to keep being a Liberal idiot”.

    • Independent1

      A ‘Liberal idiot” as opposed to a totally antiChristian bigoted conservative who’s destined for damnation?? Sounds like a good alternative to me!!!

      • Louis Allen

        Indy: I was talking to Cynthia, not to you.
        We already know (everybody knows !) the kind of liberal mo^ron you are ….

        • Independent1

          It matters not what you dimwit, tunnelvision GOP sheeple think. I’m content in knowing that you are going to get yours for your pathological lying when all is said and done. Just keep in mind that the term Conservative Christian is an Oxymoron – no conservative can be a true Christian.

          • Louis Allen

            Shows (yet again !!) what a moron you are.
            “When all is said and done”, you liberal morons will have LOST the 2016 elections by a landslide !!!!

  • Leftout

    Sounds like a Mantra that is the hallmark of ‘two more years’ to go Obama

    • Independent1

      Not sure what your point is but if Obama and Reid can just keep the GOP from getting their nefarious legislation passed that will only serve to push America backward during the next 2 years – what he’s already accomplished is nothing short of miraculous considering the 24/7 GOP obstructionism over the past 6 years.

      Just check this out and let me see you list for me anything comparable for all the last 5 worthless GOP presidents combined!!

      1) Obama has presided over the longest stretch of continuous
      positive jobs growth in America’s history – more than 57 months and counting.

      2) The stock market has virtually tripled during the Obama
      administration (from a low around 6,600 to over 18,000) with it reaching levels NEVER SEEN BEFORE which has improved the lives of millions of American retirees such as myself!!

      3) The Obama Administration has managed America’s energy sector such that TODAY, America is the largest distributor of energy on the planet FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY!!

      4) The Obama Administration has rounded up and deported more
      troublesome illegal aliens that have been costing America billions THAN THE THREE PREVIOUS PRESIDENTS COMBINED!!

      5) Obama following through on the auto bailout has resulted in
      America’s largest manufacturing sector, the Auto Industry, recording profits the past couple years that haven’t been seen since Clinton was in office. And in that process arguably saved 1.5 million Americans their jobs and kept America from falling into a full fledged depression.

      6) During Obama’s time in office,deficit spending has come done
      FURTHER and FASTER than under any previous president IN HISTORY (from a 1.4T deficit in Bush’s last budget to under 500B for 2014 – reducing deficit spending more than 1T/yr in 5 budgets)!!

      7) During Obama’s time in off the unemployment rate has come
      down further and faster than under any previous PRESIDENT IN HISTORY!! (From 10.1% when the freefall Bush created turned around, to below 5.8% in less than 6 years.)

      8) Obama’s administration started a war on fraud early in his 1st
      term, the spring of 2009, focusing on fraud in the defense and healthcare sectors which has resulted in bringing more fraud crooks to justice and recovering more illegally gotten government money than the last 3 presidents combined.

      9) Obama pushed for a stimulus in 2009, that not only helped
      keep America out of a depression, but also invigorated the alternative energy sector to create alternatives to fossil fuels (solar, wind, hydro, tidal and plasma) that will greatly reduce demand for oil and coal in the near future; greatly helping the world’s efforts to combat global warming.

      10) Obama was successful in getting legislation passed that
      revises the rules health insurers must follow in providing insurance to Americans (ACA/Obamacare); which has not only already saved more than 60,000 people their lives, but is also now saving hospitals and many states millions/billions, even including in the red state of Arizona, billions of dollars in reduced costs because there are millions fewer Americans that are now uninsured.

      11) Obama has presided over the economy during best year of jobs growth (2014) in America since 1999, when another Democrat was in office!!!

      12) Obama used an Executive Order to cut the banks out of the
      student loan program which has greatly simplified the loan application process which has allowed hundreds of thousands, maybe millions more high school graduates to afford college than under any previous president.