Quit smoking. Lose weight. Enjoy life. Help others. These are four of the most common New Year’s resolutions, according to most everyone who surveys such things. Chances are that a couple of these are on your list as well. Sadly, less than one out of every three people will fulfill one of their New Year’s resolutions. In fact, statistically speaking, about one in five of us will have already given up trying by the end of January.
Unfortunately, in today’s cynical media culture, a New Year’s resolution is often portrayed as something of a joke. It’s seen as a statement of good intentions rather than an actual commitment to do something. It’s as if New Year’s resolutions are for the things we know we should be doing, but in reality, no one expects us to actually do.
That’s really too bad, because a new year is a fresh start. It gives us an opportunity to assess our life and resolve to do something to make it better. Consider the definition of the word “resolution.” It’s a firm determination to do (or not do) something. It’s not just an intention, it’s a commitment to work hard to achieve a goal.
The entire concept of New Year’s resolutions began two millennia ago with the ancient Romans. The month of January gets its name from Janus, the Roman god with two faces who simultaneously looked back into the old year and forward into the new. Those early New Year’s resolutions always had strong moral underpinnings. It was a time to commit to bettering one’s self.
Even today, many of us make a resolution to become better people in some way in the new year. Imagine how different our world would be if we actually showed some resolve and worked hard to achieve those resolutions. Even if we were to fail from time to time, the mere act of trying would bring enough success that the net positive impact could be tremendous.
I’ve never been a smoker, so I can’t help you keep that resolution. Goodness knows that you wouldn’t ask me about losing weight. However, I do know a heck of a lot about enjoying life, and maybe even a little bit about helping others. Let’s resolve together to enjoy life more and to do more to help others.
In my experience, this pair of resolutions is basically two sides of the same coin. When we are inspired to help another in this world, we almost always find a little joy for ourselves in the process. Here are three simple rules to remember which can help you resolve to both help others and enjoy life more.
First, give local. This is not to say that there aren’t causes worthy of your support far beyond Door County. Of course there are. But charity begins at home for a reason. Giving at its highest levels and at its most rewarding is a visceral experience. There is a strong emotional connection between the donor and the cause. When you give to local charities you are impacting the community you love. You are alleviating the suffering or enhancing the quality of life of people who could be your friends or neighbors.
It’s a beautiful thing to know that your actions are touching the lives of people whose paths you might cross at the grocery store or who sit at the other end of the pew at church on Sunday. Charity begins at home because it’s there that giving is most personally rewarding.
Second, give more than money. As good as it feels to share of your financial abundance with the less fortunate, giving of your time can even be more rewarding. If you have a strong personal connection to your favorite Door County charity, imagine how wonderful it would feel if you could actually be there, actively involved in their work.
Whether you’re volunteering to assist in providing a direct service to clients or you’re serving on the board of directors, you become part of a team of like-minded people who are working hard to make our community better. Through your volunteer service, you will build a deep understanding of how the organization works. Assuming the charity is working well, then you will draw great satisfaction from where your contributions of time and money are going. If the nonprofit needs a little help to improve, you’ll be in a position to do something about it – which can be even more personally satisfying.
You’ll also develop deep and lasting friendships with people who serve and volunteer shoulder to shoulder with you. I can think of no better way to enjoy life more than to walk through it with good people I call friends.
Third, give as a family. However you define your family – you and your children, your close friends, your church, or service club – when you go through the experience of donating and volunteering as a group, it reinforces the bonds and connections that exist between you. We are never more noble then when we act selflessly – and charitable giving is a selfless act. When we are charitable, we are at our very best. By giving as a family, we are offered the wonderful opportunity to see each other at our very best. It reminds us of why we are blessed to call these people our family and friends.
So let’s all make at least two resolutions together for 2014 and let’s commit to reminding each other of what they are. Let’s resolve to help others, and in the process, let’s enjoy life more.
Of course, it would make my lovely wife happy if you’d also remind me about my resolution to lose weight. But then again, I wasn’t really serious about that one.
This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on December 31, 2013.