Ever wondered who made the very first New Year’s resolution? I’ve done some preliminary research – if you call Googling the words origins of new year’s resolutions research.
My conclusion, based on early evidence: There’s a lot of resolutions-related research material out there. Some of that material seems plausible, while other stuff should be taken with a healthy dose of salt.
I see already that I’m about to veer off from where that first sentence was headed, so please allow me a moment to gather my thoughts. (At the top of my list of resolutions for 2017 is to stay more focused.)
Thank you. Getting back on track, there’s something in all of us, probably dating to our earliest ancestors, that makes us want to improve our habits and general well-being. I can imagine one of my cave-dwelling kin eons ago staring into a fire at a New Year’s Eve gathering (or the cave dwellers’ equivalent thereof) and thinking, “OK, this year I’m cutting back on warthog. It can’t be good for my blood pressure. Maybe I’ll go back to that Paleo thing.”
I plan more research on New Year’s resolutions, but for now I’m not going to obsess about that subject. See, I’ve resolved to not to be so obsessive this year. Or maybe I should say be less obsessive. Or, better yet, not obsess at all. Ahem.
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Changing the subject entirely, one of my all-time favorite words is serendipity. My Webster’s defines the word this way: “the faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” That ability has been one of my life’s great blessings, especially when I go for walks or runs.
In rambling about the capital city area just in the last four or five years, I’ve looked down from time to time and found a wide array of tools – screwdrivers, hammers, box cutters, you name it – and at least $50, mostly in bills. One highlight was finding a $20 bill, on a Saturday morning, right in the middle of Main Street. Then there was that Sunday morning when I glanced down while taking photos of a demolition project and spotted a twenty among the clover I was standing in.
Oddly enough, I find that if I’m actually trying to spot something valuable I’m never successful. Good fortune in such a case would not be serendipitous, right?
One last thing about serendipity: my musings about the word stem from a book I was reading the other night: “At Home: A Short History of Private Life,” by Bill Bryson. In writing about the drawing room, for instance, he dropped in some trivia about Horace Walpole, an 18th century British politician and prolific letter writer. Bryson noted that while Walpole isn’t well known today, he was immensely popular in his day for writing histories and romances, and is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with coining at least 233 words. Among the words he either invented or borrowed from other languages and popularized among English readers are airsickness, boulevard, café, caricature, fairy tale, mud bath, souvenir and, my favorite of the whole bunch, serendipity.
Walpole coined serendipity from a fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip,” in which the heroes were forever discovering things they were not seeking. The title refers to Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka.
Bryson is one of my favorite authors. His writings sometimes meander, but they meander through tons of interesting tidbits. I suppose Dear Reader understands my attraction.
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OK, I’ve already blown my No. 1 resolution. You know, the one about staying focused. It’s a challenge these days. In front of me is a computer screen with four pages open to Internet searches I’ve done in the last 10 minutes. Next to my left elbow is a device with Bryson’s “At Home” downloaded on it. Next to my right elbow is my cell phone. It vibrates about every 30 seconds with the latest exclamation from one of five knucklehead friends of mine who are excitedly group texting about forming a dodge ball team.
I guess I should get back to my New Year’s resolutions research. Or maybe I should jot down a few more resolutions.
Whatever I do here shortly, it won’t be for long. There are sports events to be watched and I need to get in there in front of the tube. I can stare at the TV and think about resolutions, sort of like my cave-dwelling ancestor gazing into his fire.
It’s in our DNA, I guess.
Resolutions? Fireside ruminations? *protected email*.