A reflection on New Year's Resolutions as one year ends, and another begins.
It's a new year - gosh, a new decade! - and there is no shortage of commentary out there for creating "new year's resolutions" (like, here and here) that promise to make you healthier, happier, better. And of course there's the ever-present push to buy our way to our better selves with things like new workout clothes, meal-delivery subscriptions, or gym memberships. "The end of one year and the beginning of the next feels for many like a natural time to take stock of well-being progress," (Atlantic) and why not? Making new year's resolutions is a centuries-old, cross-cultural practice. But what about sticking to these resolutions all year?
"To be successful, motivation for the change has to come from personal desire, which is a problem for resolution marketing as a concept. Brands may successfully get you to buy products, and those products might even be useful for habit change in some way. But if your desire to change is [only] prompted by an arbitrary date on the calendar or the appearance of a good deal, those dollars are almost certainly wasted." (Atlantic) Maybe your better self lies somewhere closer to your personal skills and interests than the checkout line?
With this revelation in mind, perhaps one trick to achieving that personal growth and improvement - the goal of every new year's resolution, right? - lies in the practice of giving. In late November, I signed up to volunteer at a new community space in Louisville's Beechmont neighborhood, The Rosewater. It would open in a building at the corner of 3rd St and Woodlawn Avenue that has been basically empty for 10 years. I imagined it as an opportunity to put my past lives - tutor, library assistant, college bookstore manager, and coffee shop barista - to worthy use. In December, I walked through the doors and found an inviting place filled with comfy nooks, cozy lamps, free hot tea, and plenty of neighbors. Eager to put my gifts and time to use, I greeted visitors, managed the register, re-stocked the shelves, and mentored a young individual from local non-profit, The Book Works. I left each of my shifts feeling connected with at least one new person, rooted in a purpose greater than my own narrative, and satisfied my energy had been well spent.
Plenty of literature exists touting the benefits of volunteering; whether generally positive, grounded in community, or for personal reasons, there are undeniable rewards for volunteer work. But you can also take it from me - in every city I've lived, for years, I've found at least one way to volunteer my skills, energy, and interests. And every time, it has been a potent anecdote to loneliness, anxiety, and self-pity.
So, as 2020 blows in, here’s a New Year’s invitation from us here at Center for Neighborhoods: As you enter into this new decade, consider instead the things you enjoy doing, topics or activities you are curious about, and skills you already have. Can any of this be shared? What opportunities can you find to learn and satisfy those curiosities? Maybe it's applying for our Neighborhood Institute, or teaching creative writing with Young Authors Greenhouse, or teaching your friends how to cook your favorite meal, or tending plants at Louisville Nature Center - the possibilities are wide and up to you!