Inside the Brown Bag By Peg Brown

I’m a no. But…this year I might be a maybe, based on a recent book I read that pointed out I really did have some character flaws that need to be addressed—more about that later.

Why am I a no? Basically, I’m stubborn and weak. Although tradition and convention cause most of us to consider participating in this Lenten-like practice, I am willing to admit that I am one of the 92 percent of Americans who will have good intentions, but never follow through. I had very early practice in the concept of “giving up.” Even though I did not grow up in the Catholic faith, most denominations in my small town encouraged “giving up something for Lent” to honor the spiritual concept of sacrifice and deprivation in the days leading up to Easter. For most of us in early adolescence this was usually fulfilled by giving up candy or something considered equally impossible. I participated in the exercise, but if the truth were told, you could find me one week after my commitment to a healthier diet downing a Mounds bar in the bathroom at the bowling alley. Let’s just say, when it comes to “giving up” or “resolving to change,” internally I’m honest and very much stuck in my ways.

If we’re all so unsuccessful at keeping our resolutions, even those made during Lent, how did this whole tradition get started? As with most things in our culture, we can date the origins of New Year’s celebrations and their accompanying practices to ancient times, connected to religious observances.

The first recorded celebration dates to over 4000 years ago when the Babylonians, during the planting of their crops in the spring, made promises to the gods to repay debts and return borrowed objects to ensure a bountiful harvest, like the practices of the Mesopotamians around 2000 BC. In 46 BC with Julius Caesar’s adoption of the Julian calendar, a date close to January 1 was designated as the beginning of the new year, and the month appropriately named for the dual faced Roman god Janus, who could look forward and backward. Like the Babylonians, the Romans made promises of good conduct in the hope of a prosperous new year (and we all know how that eventually turned out!)

As late as 1740, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, conducted services where attendees were asked to think of their past mistakes and resolve to improve in the new year. Today, well, it’s probably no surprise that New Year’s Day celebrations (which according to those who track such things say is America’s fourth favorite holiday) are mostly secular.

If you are among the “yeses,” research suggests that most resolutions center around establishing a healthier life style—losing weight, getting fit, eating healthy, quitting smoking– (just ask your local gym about their peak enrollment time of year), —saving more money, or taking better care of yourself overall. Again, the academics, like John Norcross, a University of Scranton psychologist, indicate that making a resolution increases the odds of achieving some success. According to Dr. Norcross, studies show that people who resolve to change behaviors do much better than non-resolvers who have some habits that need to be changed. Trying and failing might just lead to making a new set of resolutions that are more attainable. What is known is that unless you make your resolutions specific, attainable, measurable, relevant and time-bound, don’t bother writing them down.

Back to why I might be a “maybe” this year. On the recommendation of a friend, I bought Whitney Cummings’ book, “I’m Fine….and Other Lies.” Cummings is a comedian, best know for starring in the NBC series, “Whitney,” and is co-writer of the comedy series, “Two Broke Girls.” The autobiographical romp through Whitney’s sorted life is not for the faint of heart—she may be a great stand-up comedian, but her language is, let’s just say…not for prime time. However, there is a segment entitled “The Codependence Chapter” that suggests I have some very bad habits that are unhealthy, self-destructive, self-centered and downright annoying. She had my attention!

Here’s just part of the list of behaviors that she suggests is problematic:

Would rather focus on the needs of others than their own;
Have a hard time saying no;
Lose sleep worrying about things you can’t control;
Stay in relationships too long because you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings;
Try to protect everyone from uncomfortable feelings;
Try to “be a good person” and “do the right thing;”
“Buy gifts, lend someone money, drive a friend to the airport…”
“Make sure everyone is eating, that the right music is playing, that the AC is the right temperature…,” that everyone is comfortable;
Spend a day with family or other individuals for whom you really don’t care, and then exchange presents;
Do things out of obligation, not out of desire —(“we have to go to that holiday party; we ought to send a card”);
Find that it’s “incredibly hard to say no to things or cancel if I find myself overcommitted;”
Or as Jerry would say, “yada, yada yada…”

This is a very truncated list to which I could add hundreds of similar items—like cooking for a sick neighbor, baking to welcome a new family into the neighborhood, inviting a widower to dinner for the holidays, “paying it forward,” donating to a relief effort…you get the idea.

So why does all this cause me to consider joining the “yeses” this year?

BECAUSE…Cummings suggests that these actions smack of low self-esteem, fear of rejection; a display of an extreme need for approval; needing desperately for someone to like us; or, as she so brutally sums up: “always needing to be perfect, polite, and generous breeds a toxic culture of shame, guilt, competition, and inauthenticity,” or, “being pathologically thoughtful” is just down right annoying and makes everyone uncomfortable.

Admittedly, Cummings has admitted to having much more therapy than I could afford, but she did get me to really think about her observations. The result: Be it resolved—no more cookies; no more casseroles; no more well-organized parties; no more wasted hours with individuals I don’t like; no more committees. According to Cummings it’s time I said, as Buddy Cianci once stated, “Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.” NO!

Any more no’s willing to take the pledge? Let me know. Maybe we can form a support group. I’ll order the matching t-shirts and bring the dessert.