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Nine literary New Year’s resolutions

Do you need some inspiration for your New Year’s resolutions? If you’re in a resolution rut and feeling some of that winter gloom, then you’re not alone. Most of the top goals for 2016 fitted into the predictable categories of losing weight, taking more holidays, reading more, drinking less alcohol, and giving up smoking. Despite the day-to-day nature of these aspirations, most people go back on their New Year’s resolutions by the end of the first week of January!

To help you on your way to an exciting start to 2017, we’ve enlisted the help of some of history’s greatest literary and philosophical figures–on their own resolutions, and inspiring thoughts for the New Year.

1. Count your blessings

“Very many things to be grateful for, since then, however. Increased reputation and means—good health and prospects. We never know the full value of blessings ’till we lose them (we were not ignorant of this one when we had it, I hope) but if she were with us now…I think I should have nothing to wish for, but a continuance of such happiness.”

– Charles Dickens writes a poignant diary entry on 1 January 1838, regarding the death of his sister-in-law. She had briefly lived with the Dickens, and died in his arms after a brief illness in 1837 reminding us to count our blessings whilst they’re still with us.

2. New Year, new start

“Cheer up! Don’t give way. A new heart for a New Year, always!”

– A more positive resolution from Dickens’ The Chimes, prompting us to take courage as a new start is always just around the corner.

3. Treat yourself!

david_la_morte_di_seneca
“La morte di Seneca, Musée du Petit-Palais, Parigi” by Jacques Louis David (1773). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“We went nowhere without figs and never without notebooks; these serve as a relish if I have bread, and if not, for bread itself. They turn every day into a New Year which I make ‘happy and blessed’ with good thoughts and the generosity of my spirit.”

– Take a lesson from Seneca and remember to treat yourself this January. Romans traditionally exchanged gifts of figs and dates on New Year’s Day, and they still symbolise prosperity and security to this day.

4. Go with the flow

“I opened the new year with what composure I could acquire…and I made anew the best resolutions I was equal to forming, that I would do what I could to curb all spirit of repining, and to content myself calmly—unresistingly, at least, with my destiny.”

– In stoic fashion on 1 January 1787, Frances Burney (the English satirical novelist) resolves to content herself with her destiny. If you’re struggling to retain your composure this January, “be like Burney” and go with the flow.

5. Rise early

“I have risen every morning since New Year’s day, at about eight; when I was up, I have indeed done but little; yet it is no slight advancement to obtain for so many hours more, the consciousness of being.”

– Samuel Johnson reminds us of the pleasures of early rising. He notes that waking early is not just to get more done in the day, but to extend the pleasure of our own “consciousness of being.” Why not join Dr Johnson, and add an extra hour to your days?

6. Seize the moment

“‘A merry Christmas, and a glad new year,’
Strangers and friends from friends and strangers hear,
The well-known phrase awakes to thoughts of glee;
But, ah! it wakes far different thoughts in me.
[…] I, on the horizon traced by memory’s powers,
Saw the long record of my wasted hours.”

477px-william_cowper_by_lemuel_francis_abbott
Portrait of William Cowper by Lemuel Francis Abbott (1792), from the National Portrait Gallery. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

– Amelia Alderson Opie’s Epistle to a friend on New Year’s Day finds the author wishing she’d seized the moment the previous year. Take some inspiration from Opie, and Carpe Diem this 2017!

7. Think of others first

“I dread always, both for my own health and for that of my friends, the unhappy influences of a year worn out; but, my dear Madam, this is the last day of it, and I resolve to hope that the new year shall obliterate all the disagreeables of the old one. I can wish nothing more warmly than that it may prove a propitious year to you.”

– The poet William Cowper (who suffered from periods of depression and mental illness) wishes his friend an auspicious new year. If you were faced with a “disagreeable” 2016, try sending out the positive vibes this January.

8. Leave the past behind

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

– Forming part of Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H., a poem lamenting the death of his beloved friend, these lines remind us that time waits for no man—and neither should we.

9. Don’t forget ‘dry January’

“Thanks be to God, since my leaving drinking of wine, I do find myself much better and to mind my business better and to spend less money, and less time lost in idle company.”

– On 26 January 1662, Samuel Pepys is thankful that he has kept his resolve with a seventeenth century dry January. If the old ones really are the best, why not follow in his footsteps and participate in a January dryathlon?

Featured image credit: “Budapest, Parliament, Fireworks” by 733215. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

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