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What New Year’s Resolutions Teach Us about American Values

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Were they along the lines of losing weight, being healthier, saving money, getting organized, or learning something new? What can popular New Year’s resolutions teach us about American Values? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how popular New Year’s resolutions reflect American values.

New Year 2012

In the exciting world of a parenting a toddler, New Year’s Eve for me involves staying up just late enough to watch the ball in Times Square. It aired live, so I watched it drop at 11 p.m. Central Standard Time and then went to bed. By the time the clock struck midnight at my house, I was asleep.

Before the ball in Times Square had even dropped the diet and exercise equipment advertisements were already airing. Many Americans declare New Year resolutions revolving around bodily self-improvement. We resolve to lose weight, get in shape, eat healthy, drink less alcohol, and quit smoking in the New Year. We might even get really specific. I’ve resolved to run 500 miles in 2012. [1. I ran close to 300 miles in 2011, so 500 miles seems attainable.] Bodily self-improvement may benefit a person’s health and add years to a person’s life. Regardless, these resolutions conform to American values of achievement and success.

Bodily Self-Improvement in the Name of Health

Values are a society’s ideas about what is good or bad. Smoking is bad and will kill us. Most Americans are ok with high taxes on cigarettes and there is rather minor resistance to most public smoking bans. Too much alcohol is considered unhealthy, but the right amount of red wine (whatever “right” means) can be good for our heart. We live in the era of an obesity epidemic and everyone is afraid of catching this disease [2. Last time I checked, you do not catch obesity. It is not the same as a cold or the flu. So why is our terminology the same? That’s for another day.]. We see smoking, excessive drinking, and obesity as bad. Limiting or better yet eliminating these things as good. In other words, Americans value health. The classic list of core American values identified by Robin Williams in 1970does not include health, but it does include achievement and success and activity and work. Most health-related resolutions would fit under one or both of these American values….

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