The holidays aren’t complete at our house without watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
We don’t “watch” it very closely. It’s on in the background as we address Christmas cards, wrap presents, pay bills, etc.
But I always pay attention to the denouement, when George Bailey – realizing it’s better to have lived – returns to his life to face jail and bankruptcy (and a loving family and loyal townspeople, of course) to pay for a horrible mistake he didn’t make.
Except, as you know, jail and bankruptcy don’t happen. At the last moment, those who George and his small company have helped through the years return the good deeds.
I always cry when that happens. I can’t help it. I’ve seen the movie a million times and I cry every time I see that.
There’s something about redemption and that there still might be time to make things right, albeit imperfectly, that really affects me emotionally. The older I get, the more it seems to be that humility and the pursuit of redemption are two of the most significant human states of being.
All of which leads me to New Year’s resolutions.
I thought New Year’s resolutions were a popular culture thing, but I was wrong. (One of my resolutions, by the way, is being more vocal about when I’m wrong. That’s doable because I’m not wrong very often. Wink.)
According to history.com, “The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.”
Paying off debts and returning stuff. Those ancient Babylonians were on the ball.
Of course, marketing helps. Gyms, grocery stores, banks, schools, and salons all want to remake you … for a small fee. In fact, many use the phrase “New year, new you.”
I Googled “tips for new years resolutions” and was rewarded with “about” 35,500,000 results in 0.22 seconds. Google has a more precise definition of “about” than I do, but anyway … .
There is some great advice. Richard O’Connor, author of “Happy at Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy,” writes that it’s better to keep the list of resolutions short, maybe 2 to 3, and that they should be as specific as possible. Instead of saying you’re going to exercise more, commit to “I’m working out at the gym Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30 p.m.”
Don’t be discouraged by setbacks, writes John M. Grohol on PsychCentral.com. Setbacks can even be beneficial.
“If you know ahead of time that there are going to be times in which your resolve weakens or you don’t live up to a certain step or schedule you’ve set, it can help when it does happen. It’s a part of the process and means nothing more than a temporary setback. Putting such temporary setbacks into their proper perspective can help you move beyond them and put them behind you.”
Excellent. I frequently obsess about setbacks.
So as 2014 hurtles toward us, I’m going to try to sleep more, worry less, make more money, and act ethically whenever possible. Basically, be a better person.
I’m still working out the specifics.
Happy New Year.
• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, www.ninaonline.org. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jasonakst.