The ball has dropped and it’s time once again to hop on the hamster wheel of self-improvement—or should I say treadmill. A flurry of self-improvement advice always accompanies the new year. So, could the old and trite tagline, “New Year, New You,” be the inspiration for this? Probably not, and every time I see that tagline I feel embarrassed for the sap who coined it.
And human nature, too, shapes our view of the new year. We love new, we love novelty, and every time we encounter it our bodies give us a tiny dose of dopamine. Sweet, right? What’s not to love? Especially if you’re on Facebook or Instagram, which exploit this peculiarity of ours. In the age of primitive humans, a little splash of dopamine on the brain was probably useful when a new food supply was discovered. But today’s modern primates would rather forage for “likes” to get their dopamine fix.
The appeal of newness cascades over our culture. You could say it defines our culture—America is, after all, referred to as the New World. And our economy is largely premised on rewarding our obsession for new things like car models, fad diets, fashion trends, workout routines and new phones every few months. Phrases like “turn over a new leaf,” “make a new start,” “new and improved” and “new-found courage” are peppered throughout our vernacular. New is not going to get old anytime soon.
And why should it? New is wonderful. Flowers, babies and snowflakes are all spectacularly new. Cures for diseases, vaccines for prevention and new surgical techniques are extending our lives and making them better. I am all for having scientists and physicians receive as much dopamine as it takes to keep them motivated.
New hair growth on the head of a cancer survivor… deserving of dopamine. A physical therapist helping someone take their first steps after an injury…deserving of dopamine. Your child speaking his or her first words… deserving of dopamine. And finding love after loss… deserving of dopamine. Every discovery in history, everything that ever advanced culture, improved lives, or mended fences has been rewarded with dopamine.
So how are you going to get your dopamine this year? Are you going to get it scrolling through the news feeds in your social media accounts, or strolling through the park with someone you love? Are you going to watch your posts build in engagement, or will you engage with real people in the real world?
When I think about new, I think of my daughter. She is always new. Every day she is creating. Every day she grows in sophistication. And every day she is showing me where I should place my attention. I’m her student and she doesn’t even know it. She is the kind of person who doesn’t need a January 1st to improve herself. It feels good to learn something new, or become someone better—she already gets that.
And now I do, too.