Like many people, I like to look at the start of a new year as a chance to better myself. I make grandiose plans to get healthy (I will never eat sugar again!) and exercise (I will run 42 miles every day!)
But after about ten minutes, reality sets in and I have to face facts. I would rather hit the snooze button on my alarm clock for an hour than pull my lazy ass out of bed and go jogging. I mean, if my alarm clock turned into a bear then I’d probably start running.
Especially if I owed the bear money. I’m not a great pool player.
So exercise is out what about eating healthier foods? Surely that can’t be too hard. I already, for the most part, avoid red meat and dairy in my everyday diet. So, I decided to try a three day green smoothie cleanse. I like to start my day with a smoothie so I figured it would be easy to push through a few days and I’d emerge feeling leaner, healthier, and like one of those superhero vegans from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
I made it about eleven hours into the three day cleanse before quitting. I decided to bail on the cleanse due to a friend pointing out that hunger was making me a colossal pain in the ass and then Husband made the point that I was doing the cleanse to make myself happy and I was miserable, thereby defeating the purpose.
Even though I think both Husband and our friend were right, I still felt like a loser for failing at something as benign as a smoothie cleanse. But then it got me thinking about New Year’s resolutions; we all, or those of us that choose to partake, set goals for ourselves to make ourselves better, stronger, faster, happier. We’re going to quit doing this, start doing that, travel to such and such a place, earn/save x amount of money, etc.
The goal of these resolutions is based in the good intentions of bettering our selves and our lives. However, I think a lot of the time our goals are rooted in the arrival fallacy, which, according to Tal Ben-Shahar, is the belief that you will be happy once you reach a certain destination.
“I’ll be happy when I lose ten pounds.”
“I’ll be happy when I earn that promotion.”
“I’ll be happy when we move.”
“I’ll be happy when I get my next book published.”
“I’ll be happy when everyone finally freaking realizes I’m the Next Great American Writer and buys enough copies of my book to make them forget about 50 Shades of Grey.”
“I’ll be happy when I cleanse my body of gross toxins through a three day smoothie cleanse.”
Sound familiar? Granted, the last few were a bit specific, but you get the idea. We spend so much time fixating on the future that we allow ourselves to be unhappy now because we’re saving up all of our happiness points for the future.
“It’s okay that I’m starving and cranky now, it’ll all be worth it when I’m finished with this smoothie cleanse and I look SO GOOD.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that the fallacy aspect of the arrival fallacy is that arriving rarely makes you as happy as you expect. “Why? Because usually by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. You quickly become adjusted to the new state of affairs. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals a new goal. There’s another hill to climb.”
So where does this leave us? The start of a new year is a natural point to make a fresh start in various areas of our lives. Should we stop trying to improve our lives just because we might fall victim to the arrival fallacy? Of course not. Instead, I think we need to focus on enjoying the journey. Enjoying the present, however, feels like such a trite thing to say. How often are we inundated with advice to “live in the now,” “enjoy the moment,” and “realize that the present is called such because it’s a gift” or whatever else shows up in every volume of Chicken Soup for the Stupid?
Not the kind of present I was thinking of, but sure.
I think what my point boils down to is that I think we need to stop being so hard on ourselves. Am I just trying to justify failing at my smoothie cleanse? Maybe. But I’ve decided to revise my New Year’s resolutions and I’m going to try to focus on actually enjoying my life. I still want to better myself but I’m not going to do it in ways that make me miserable. I don’t want to spend my life saving up happiness points and then find out later that I’m out of time with a stockpile I never cashed in. Recent events in my personal life have taught me that life and the plans you make can change from one breath to the next and frankly, I don’t want to waste any more time planning to be happy later. I figure I have a good chance of following my new resolution—provided I actually eat food.
Written by: Emily Regan