I recently reread Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I came across this passage that I found interesting, particularly in light of my recent posts on identity-based habits and resolutions*:
I’d noticed idly that a lot of people use the term “goal” instead of “resolution,” and one day in December, it struck me that this difference was in fact significant. You hit a goal, you keep a resolution. “Run a marathon” makes a good goal. It’s specific, it’s easy to measure success, and once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. “Sing in the morning” and “Exercise better” are better cast as resolutions. You won’t wake up one day and find that you’ve achieved it. It’s something that you have to resolve to do every day, forever. Striving toward a goal provides the atmosphere of growth so important to happiness, but it can be easy to get discouraged if reaching the goal is more difficult than you expected. Also, what happens once you’ve reached your goal? Say you’ve run the marathon. What now – do you stop exercising? Do you set a new goal? With resolutions, the expectations are different. Each day I try to live up to my resolutions. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate and a fresh opportunity. I never expect to be done with my resolutions, so I don’t get discouraged when they stay challenging. Which they do.
– Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project, page 288
I like how Rubin has differentiated here between goals and resolutions – I think you can push the idea further and explore related or nested goals and resolutions. For example, the goal to run a marathon could be one part of a larger resolution to exercise more or live a healthier lifestyle. As Rubin notes, thinking about her resolutions every day helps her to live up to them, but a goal in tandem can provide additional focus. If the resolution is to exercise three times a week, adding a goal to run a marathon can help to keep you focused and in the habit. And resolutions can help us to achieve larger goals. For example, a resolution to show up on time for work every day can contribute to a larger goal of earning a promotion. Even Rubin’s resolutions all push her forward towards a goal: feeling happier in her life.
I think Rubin’s conception of resolutions (both in this passage and throughout the book) also fits in well with those identity-based habits we’ve been talking about. As part of her happiness project, Rubin identifies areas of her character she doesn’t like and uses her resolutions to change them. Rubin wants to be “happier”: she wants to laugh more, have more fun, and be less snappish with her husband and children. Throughout the book, resolutions like “Laugh more” or “Sing in the morning” encourage her to change her self-concept to encompass more humor, more goofiness, in small ways on a day-to-day basis. And it works!
*[While I recognize that the annual time of resolution-making has passed now that January is over and in fact it’s March already, I think it’s in the spirit of this blog to keep exploring the question if I want to. (And I keep seeing things that make me want to.) As Rubin notes, you don’t have to wait to start a happiness project – you can do it anytime – and this blog is all about exploring things that lead to happiness. Don’t postpone joy! So I think resolutions are fair game for any time of year and I shall post accordingly!]