New Year: it’s a strange liminal date at the best of times, full of anxiety and hope and empty resolutions. The artificial changing of the calendar makes us feel that something momentous should happen, but it never does. This annual New Year Anxiety Syndrome reached its height in the Millennium hysteria. A lot of people must have felt very silly on the morning of January 1st, 2000, when they woke up and found themselves and the world unchanged, apart from the usual damages of time, as they and it will be again next January 1st, and the one after that.

We like to think that we are living in a time of history-making events, but we may be living in a footnote to a book already written. The ancient Greeks believed that history was cyclical: the same events repeated over and over, like the programming on some public television stations. This is a comforting philosophy. Nothing entirely unexpected can happen, because it has all happened before in the great turning wheel of time. From this perspective, we might expect that the twenty-first century will be essentially a rerun of the eleventh century. In that century the world was divided into an infinity of warring tribes, fighting over religion, wealth, and territory, and the Christianity versus Islam Crusades were just getting started. Cynics may say that this is just another example of the irony of history. But history is not so much ironic as simply repetitive, which is why each New Year surprises us by being very much like the one before.

There are reasons to be anxious about the future, but change is not one of them, and nor is danger. There’s nothing new about danger. Even in the so-boring 1950s we had the looming threat of the bomb, and the even more imminent horrors of Rock and Roll to worry about. You just never know.

It’s not surprising that we prefer to turn our backs on the enigmatic past and the opaque future, and focus on ourselves. That’s where New Year’s Resolutions come in. We may not be able to control the great forces of politics and economics, but we imagine we can at least take charge of our own personal lives.

This is a notion that can apparently survive any amount of disproof. We all know people, some of them very close to home, who have been making the same resolutions about diet and exercise and smoking and drinking for decades. The resolutions are always consigned to oblivion by Easter, and often as early as Valentine’s Day.

This is because we make the wrong resolutions. They tend to be punitive and puritanical, rather than prescriptions for pleasure. Diet and health resolutions are doomed before they start, and indeed they may soon be unnecessary. Just last week I read two news items that promise salvation to couch potatoes and hearty eaters everywhere. From the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio comes the news that volunteers who were asked to “visualize and imagine” themselves taking a training session, actually gained muscle strength without doing any real exercise whatsoever. From Israel we read of a new technique that melts fat away without the need for diet or surgery. When we learn about discoveries like this our motivation to discipline and punish our own bodies is undermined still further. Why bother with New Year’s resolutions that will only cause misery now and embarrassment later when, just around the corner, is a technological fix that will solve all our problems and cancel out all our weaknesses?

In fact, polls show that fewer and fewer people are making New Year’s resolutions these days. It may be that, after long experience, we have lost faith in our power to change or that, quite sensibly, we are less inclined to inflict pain on ourselves. To that extent, we’ve become more realistic (or cynical if you prefer). But it seems a shame to launch into the New Year without at least a token resolution, so how about trying something that gives pleasure instead of pain?

A resolution doesn’t have to be a discipline or a strait jacket. In fact, it shouldn’t be. The etymology of the word “resolution” stems from the Latin verb “solvere,” meaning to loosen or reveal, or set free.

So my resolution is to set myself free from negative resolutions, and give myself the gift of a positive one. I want to take more pleasure in small things, to become more naïve, to regress. The older we get, the more we tend to take everything for granted and find the whole world tedious and predictable. I would prefer to move in the opposite direction, so that I find everything interesting, new, worth doing, and fun.

A couple of years ago I was at a conference in Iowa, and attended a reception organized for us by a group of senior citizens. I fell into conversation with a lively octogenarian, a tiny sprite of a man with a long white Santa Claus beard. He wore a T-shirt with the inscription: I AM SIX, and he was a delightful companion, full of enthusiasm for everything.

That’s my resolution for all the future New Years I am lucky enough to see. It’s not going to be easy, especially if all my friends really do get fit, give up drinking and finish their eternal novels. I may have to climb back on the puritanical bandwagon. Meanwhile, I’m not giving up anything. I am six.