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Howard S. Friedman Ph.D.
Howard S. Friedman Ph.D.

Best and Worst New Year's Resolutions

The concluding verse of Auld Lang Syne provides a good tip for thriving

Auld lang syne—the times gone by—are indeed behind us, with the missed opportunities and the mistakes, but also the chance to start anew. So we make new year's resolutions, but usually ones that seem promising but are ultimately self-defeating. Fortunately, there are resolutions that do really help.

OK, perhaps we ate too much, and drank too much, and did too little exercise, and so we resolve to focus on our bodies and vow to lose weight, hit the treadmill, and quit the socializing. Not wise! When we focus in on ourselves, we often subvert or destroy the very things that can lead to better health and happiness. Those are the worst new year’s resolutions you can make! They are a fresh start on renewing old problems.

We all pretty much know that it is good to stay fit, eat right, sleep well, stay positive, and buckle up, SO WHY ISN'T EVERYONE HEALTHY AND HAPPY? We learned many answers in the Longevity Project, where we have been studying 1500 bright Americans who were first examined as children in the 1920s. They were followed for their whole lives, and we evaluated how well they aged and how long they lived. The findings continually surprise us. What are the secrets of the thrivers and survivors?

The concluding verse of the song Auld Lang Syne provides a good tip: “There’s a hand my trusty friend, and give us a hand of thine.” Just as many people celebrating the new year form a circle and grasp hands with their friends, our scientific research suggests that this will work in a metaphorical sense as well. The secret is healthy patterns with others, not new resolutions about oneself. One of the best ways to get on a health pathway is to associate with other healthy, active, and yes, hard-working, dedicated individuals. A lesson of The Longevity Project—one of the secrets of longevity—is to choose work, join social groups, and select hobbies that will naturally lead you to join hands with others in a whole host of healthier patterns and activities. Those are the best new year’s resolutions you can make!

Surprisingly, the best new year's resolution is to throw away your self-improvement lists and focus on accomplishing things at work or school, with friends and family, and with your community. That could mean some anxiety, some worrying, more socializing, and more challenge, but also a more fulfilling and healthy year.

Who were the individuals in our study who stayed healthy and happy? Generally speaking, those who toil at something they love (and never totally stop striving) and those dedicated to helping others in a loving relationship, whether marriage or good friendship. This requires responsibility and involvement, not new gym memberships or fad diets (unless you join a cool cooking group).

For most people, the traditional New Year's resolutions do not produce the desired effects. Gym memberships rise in January but then fall off (and muscles flab out) by June. Belly sizes fall in January but then expand. Some people can't fall asleep and wreck their health because they’re worrying about how much they should sleep. But the New Year's resolutions that emerge from conscientious involvement with causes beyond yourself, whether big or small, often work magic. Look not to kale or collards but to contributions and community, and then next year you may not have to make any new year's resolutions at all.

For more information on The Longevity Project see

The book also contains self-assessment quizzes to help you figure your current trajectory.

Copyright © 2015 Howard S. Friedman, all rights reserved.

About the Author
Howard S. Friedman Ph.D.

Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

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