For me, New Year's Eve is no great night of celebration. I would rather vape around a campfire than drink shots in a club — and the older I get, the less I like the idea of New Year's resolutions. Don't get me wrong; I know New Year's resolutions can be motivating (at least for a little while), but they're hard to keep, and I don't think anyone should feel pressured to make them.
Last December was particularly challenging for me — a surprise bedbug infestation forced me to move out of my apartment, burn all my furniture, and retreat to my parents' basement. Shortly after that, a former partner who sexually assaulted me during our relationship contacted me. And on Christmas Eve, the guy I was seeing revealed he'd been seeing someone else. Oh, and then there was the 2016 election.
The last thing I wanted to do was make an overwhelming list of ways I needed to change my life in 2017. I worried I would set myself up for a bunch of small failures, and I didn't think my self-esteem could handle that. So instead I focused on one resolution: practice kindness. I figured if it was the only one I could keep, it would be enough. I got the idea from Susan Sontag, the journalist, feminist, and antiwar activist who famously said in 1972: "Kindness, kindness, kindness. I want to make a New Year's prayer, not a resolution. I'm praying for courage."
It's just harder to feel like a failure when your immediate goal is simply to be kind.
I opted to catch and release spiders. I always stopped to help turtles in the middle of the road cross safely to the other side. I wouldn't pass by any animal (human, companion, or farmed) without kindly acknowledging them. I played with my nieces whenever they asked, even if I could only spend five minutes. I gave my companion animals more attention than ever and bought them healthier food. I weaned myself off cow's milk because I knew enough about the dairy industry to understand that plant-based milk was the kinder choice. I also told the guy who'd assaulted me to treat his next girlfriend better and to leave me alone — an act of kindness toward myself.
After just one week of practicing kindness at every opportunity, I felt lighter and more optimistic. My circumstances hadn't changed — I was still a 26-year-old woman living in her parents' basement. I was still broke. I was still dealing with heartbreak and trauma. But in so many ways, I felt happier and freer than I'd felt in months — and it makes sense why. Many recent studies show that practicing kindness is literally good for you. Plus, it's just harder to feel like a failure when your immediate goal is simply to be kind.
Unlike most of the resolutions I've made (drink more water, master a triple-back handspring), practicing kindness actually stuck. I'm happy to report it has led me to a more conscious, joyous, and healthy life. I unapologetically prioritize sleep and solitude over social obligations now, and I finally tried therapy. After researching the cruelties of factory farming last Summer, I became vegan. My diet is healthier than ever, and I can feel it. Practicing kindness encouraged me to pursue career opportunities in the animal protection movement, and now I'm a staff writer at Mercy For Animals, where practicing kindness is part of my job.
With just this one resolution, I fulfilled so many past resolutions — advance my career, bolster my self-esteem, and improve my mental and physical health. So if you feel you can only keep one resolution this year, resolve to practice kindness. Put your health before your to-do list, take time for the people you love most, and consider leaving animals off your plate. You'll probably find that practicing kindness is the only New Year's resolution you'll ever need.