In the first few days of January each year, people around the world set resolutions - things they’d like to change, start doing, or stop doing in the new year to come. The beginning of a new year provides a nice opportunity to take a step back and reflect on our lives. It provides a feeling of a “fresh start” - a renewed sense of hope that we can make positive changes, that we can do things differently.
Whenever I stop to think about how my life is going, I also try to remember to put it in perspective. While I might not have done as much exercise as I’d like this year, I am in the richest 5% of the world’s population. The fact that I’m able to worry about whether I should be shifting to a low-carb diet, or whether I should be doing more high-intensity exercise, is a sign of just how well-off I am. Because you know what I don’t have to worry about? Getting enough food to eat, or keeping a roof above my head, or catching malaria. If these worries so much as peaked their heads into my day-to-day life, I’d certainly be worrying a lot less about how much time I was spending meditating.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we’re wrong to think about these things, or that our problems are trivial. I think striving to improve yourself in every way is awesome, and that many people in the developed world face genuine struggles. But it’s also important to recognise that in most ways we are in an incredibly privileged position in the world. The fact that we are even able to set New Year’s resolutions is a sign of that.
This new year, spurred by an excellent video made by Cambridge University students, people all around the world are taking the Giving What We Can pledge as their New Year’s resolution - pledging to give 10% of their income over their life to the most cost-effective charities. For most of us, donating just 10% of our incomes would barely change our own lives - I’d still be in the top 6% of the world’s population, for example. And in fact, research suggests that giving actually makes our own lives happier - making giving more to charity a great resolution for improving your own life in 2015, too.
As with any New Year’s resolution, though, it’s important to make a commitment you’ll actually feel motivated by and be able to stick to. If you haven’t exercised once in the past year, resolving to go to the gym every day in 2015 might be a bit unrealistic. Similarly, donating 10% of your income might feel like too big a leap straight away. But it needn’t be all or nothing. When we’re building new habits - and donating to charity is in many ways like any other habit - initially it’s important to focus on small goals you’ll actually meet and feel good about. So if it feels more realistic to you to start by donating a smaller percentage, and to commit for a shorter period of time, trying out giving might be the perfect resolution - pledging to donate a percentage you choose for a certain period of time.
We needn’t face a choice between improving our own lives and improving the lives of others, because we can do both. So this January, as well as resolving to get fitter, eat better, and be more productive, I’m resolving to use my incredible position in the world to help others more - especially those who don’t have the privilege of being able to set New Year’s resolutions.