NEW YEAR’S DECLARATIONS

Forget the Resolutions; Try a Few Declarations

Want a “more perfect” you? Look to those who sought a more perfect union.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

I know, I know. You haven’t gotten around to even thinking about New Years resolutions yet. You’re still breaking last year’s resolutions, wondering where the hell 2014 went, and working off that monster Boxing Day hangover. I hear you. Frankly, I wish you weren’t speaking so loudly.

Let’s be honest: New Year’s resolutions are more of a New Year’s Day thing, hasty declarations made only after having accumulated sufficient guilt from an indulgent New Year’s Eve—too much champagne, not enough will power, and maybe one of those infamous “rides of glory” I and everyone at Uber have heard so much about.

Yes, making a list isn’t high on your, well, list. Frankly, you were hoping there was an App for that. Something to make the annual stock-taking and promise-making painless, effortless, and unspoiled by any unexpected in-App purchases.

Tough luck, buddy. No one can write your resolutions for you. (If they could, I’d advise you adopt this as your first: stop taking credit for the work of others. Shame on you.) But as a service, I can give you a little hint. If you’re looking for inspiration, a few templates, a how-to guide, there is an easy way out: simply take a look back.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, just remember a few of the resolutions the Founding Fathers (would have) made this year. Never mind, please, that that history books don’t quite recall them being made. I have it on good authority these quotes are 100 percent accurate, if not 100 percent verbatim. Regardless, as the ball drops on 1776 and we turn the page to 2015, who better to consult when trying to design that “more perfect” you? This year, instead of inventing your own resolutions, why not borrow these declarations:

“Be on time. Plan for traffic.” – James Madison

Heck, be early. When Madison decided he wanted to become “the Father of the Constitution,” he arrived days earlier than the rest of his fellow delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He wanted to get the lay of the land, acclimate to the altitude, sample a cheesesteak or two—and he knew, as so often is the case these days, that a reservation does not guarantee admittance. First come, first served.

“Join Flywheel.” – Thomas Jefferson

Third president. Secretary of State. Author of the Declaration of Independence. And proponent of a good sweat. “Give about two [hours] every day to exercise,” Jefferson instructed his young nephew. Sound advice, although I’m not sure what to make of Jefferson’s choice of apparatus: “As to the species of exercise,” he counseled, “I advise the gun.” Yes, the gun: “While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.” Forget those silly “games played with the ball”; they are far “too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind.” No, sir. “Let your gun…be the constant companion on your walks.” Yikes — my mother warned me not to run with scissors.

“Read less. And listen to fewer podcasts.” – Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson has an additional resolution you should adopt when on those walks. “Never think of taking a book with you.” What the huh?! You read that right. (Even though TJ would have preferred you didn’t.) That’s Thomas Jefferson, lover of books, smack-talking books. But before you replace those books with an audio version, consider his clarifying wisdom on the matter: “The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk.” No thinking? No books? A surprising command from the man whose personal library became the Library of Congress, but his point stands: you’re never going to write the Declaration of Independence if you spend all that time bingeing on Serial.

“Pay off that MasterCard.” – Alexander Hamilton

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So you’ve proven you can a) get a credit card and b) use it irresponsibly. So did Alexander Hamilton, and on a grander scale than your AmEx. Of course, Hamilton’s plan for the federal government to assume the debt of the states (and to pay off that that debt by taxing liquor) led to the famous Whiskey Rebellion. Do you want to prompt a rebellion? I thought not. Pay that balance due.

“Cut back on the Four Loko.” – Luther Martin

You may not have heard of Luther Martin. He’s been called the “Forgotten Founder,” despite his unforgettable contributions to the writing of the Constitution. Why? Various reasons. He drank a lot. He embarrassed himself often. He refused to sign the Constitution, for good reasons and bad. He went mad. It’s very sad.

Which is why you should:

“Clap along, if you feel like a room without a roof.” – Benjamin Franklin

Ah, happiness. Oh sure, it’s a right—right up there with life and liberty—but it’s not a given. You have to pursue it. As Franklin said, “The U. S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.” (Frankly, Franklin said no such thing. That quote has been misattributed to him since it first appeared in 1881, when Ben would have been 175 years old. But why let the truth get in the way of a good resolution?)

And finally,

“Next time, share credit.” – Thomas Jefferson

Funny thing about that most memorable part of Jefferson’s Declaration, in which we “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are…endowed…with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The addition of “self-evident” wasn’t Jefferson’s masterstroke; it was Benjamin Franklin’s. To be sure, Jefferson did share the credit, but not in the way such a resolution might be interpreted. Thanks to that meddling Franklin and the other editors, Jefferson thought his Declaration had been “mangled.” He cast blame; he had no intention of sharing credit.

In the spirit of a new year, here’s my resolution: I shall judge (Jefferson) not lest I be judged. I shall not cast aspersions. I shall let bygones be bygones. Because on that whole writing-the-Constitution thing, I figure Jefferson did most of the heavy-lifting—even if he wasn’t holding a gun while lifting it. And besides, as a nation, we hold this truth to be self-evident: resolutions are made to be broken.