The tradition of making New Year resolutions raises one of those theistic vs atheistic type questions, “Why do something rather than nothing?” Theists often say that if we are just going to have dirt thrown in our faces at the end, isn’t everything meaningless? They often argue that the afterlife (and god) makes everything meaningful. But I do not think that is true, I’ll just look at a couple of quick examples, as I know this is a subject I will come back to again and again.
Does an afterlife itself make this life more meaningful? I say “no.” Here are just two of my reasons.
The existence of some kind of eternal afterlife makes this life just a mere prelude to what comes after. This doesn’t give meaning to our all too brief earthly existence, it takes it away. What could 80 years possibly mean compared to eternity? Not very much.
But, theists will argue, god rewards or punishes our actions in this life, so therefore they have eternal meaning. Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t really help anything.
At it’s purest, this means we live life poised on some kind of razor’s edge where every thought, every action could be the one that tips the balance in to heaven or hell. This does not give meaning — consequences, yes, meaning, no. It could be that one youthful indescretion seals your fate, a literal eye blink in eternity. That is not meaning, it is more a form of psycopathy.
Or it could be that one of the lesser versions of judgement holds true. Maybe Jesus did die for all of our sins, no judgement day at all. No meaning there. Or maybe we have to sweat out all our sins in the gigantic rehab in the sky, purgatory, and then off to heaven. Again, it doesn’t really make what you do here meaningful. Why not save a step and just send our souls straight to purgatory and then when “clean” enter into heaven. Who needs 80 years of making sure the rugs are vacuumed?
Well, at least religion tells us what do to, the theist will then argue. We know what kinds of resolutions to make.
But even that is not really true. Does god want us to be like the Taliban/ISIL and spend our time removing things from the world that displease him, everything from Buddhist statues to infidels to abortion doctors? Are we supposed to visit people in jail (as Jesus mentioned?)
Or are we supposed get rid of jails entirely? Sincere people of all kinds of religious stripes will argue for those things and many, many others. OK, it is now fair for you to ask what the secular answer to why to resolve to do something and what that should be.
Why should we do something rather than nothing? I think one thing that religious people and secular people can agree on is that we seem to have evolved (or been designed) to do things. We simply are not able to sit still for very long. It is even difficult for most people to practice endless hedonism. Eventually you get tired of eating, drinking and dancing and you want to do something. That is reason enough to something rather than nothing. But what do to?
Many people take the route of making a checklist: lose 10 pounds, read a book a month, build a gazebo and so on. Nothing wrong with those things. Do they bring meaning? Maybe. Certainly they can make like more enjoyable. Which is what I will suggest as a metric for deciding what to resolve. Make life more enjoyable for yourself, those closest to you and for larger society. With that in mind, here are some secular resolutions that can accomplish those goals.
Resolution 1: Become a better cook. Yes, you read that right. Better living through cooking. Better food is more enjoyable for you, the pleasure of a good meal is undeniable and very repeatable. Home cooking your meals will bring you closer to your loved ones, breaking bread together has been recognized for millennial as a way for people to truly bond. You will also be helping wider society by being healthier, supporting farmers and many other benefits.
Resolution 2: Become more musical. Music has been with us almost as long as food. Each new level of technology gives us more music, but also makes too many of us mere passive consumers. So, learn to play an instrument. Like cooking, you will find this bringing you closer to other people. You could even be the life of the party. Even if you can’t play an instrument, you can expand your musical horizons. You don’t have simply relive your musical adolescence over and over again. Try listening to a new genre of music. Give classical or jazz a chance. Listen to an independent community radio station. Hit “I feel lucky” on Google Play. Go listen to live music in your community. OK, yes it mostly takes place in bars late at night, but hearing real people play real music is worth it. Again, it will be enjoyable for you, those close to you and your wider community.
Resolution 3: Make contact. Make real contact with other people. Don’t just send a check for charity, volunteer. Don’t try to convert your rival, listen to them and understand them. Be wholely present with your loved ones. If more people made more real contact, the ripples will be felt throughout our communities.
I can guarantee you that these three things will make your life more enjoyable in a very real way. Your world and the rest of the world will be a bit better off. I am not sure if that is “meaning,” but it is a really good start.