For Christmas 1991 my parents bought me a diary. It was an important looking hardback number with The Dahl Diary 1992 scrawled across the top in Quentin Blake’s familiar style and a drawing of the author with some of his beloved characters. The character I identified with most was Matilda, a bookworm whose talents are woefully undervalued by her mean, TV-obsessed parents. On reflection this does seem fairly deluded of my eight-year-old self when evidently her parents didn’t think she was bookish enough, or they might not have encouraged their daughter to self-reflect in an expensive book with characters from books on the cover.
There, surrounded by discarded wrapping paper, satsumas and Sindy dolls, I made my very first new year’s resolution: to keep a diary.
I set to it right away. I don’t know if I realised that diary-keepers tend to jot down experiences as they happen but I shunned this more conventional diarising in favour of filling in The Dahl Diary 1992 completely on 25 December 1991. See, I told you I was unusually clever.
In particular I remember leafing through and every few pages pencilling in “Be nice to Daniel”.
Dan (I used his full name because writing in a book felt Very Important) is my eldest brother.
So my first new year’s resolution was a great success, if you accept my interpretation of this task as one 10 minute job undertaken between scoffing chocolate coins. Presumably I was being a complete shit to Daniel, within a few hours though.
I have never heard of a (valid) new year’s resolution that worked out. They seem wholly designed as a tool of self-flagellation for when you fail to lose weight/quit Candy Crush/do something uncharacteristically worthy but boring and time-consuming every single day (say, being nice to Daniel).
This year I have come up with a solution. That is not to have any new year’s resolutions. This probably doesn’t sound that odd but the next sentence might… A Buddhist monk I met in Keighley suggested what I might do instead: “If you don’t like something in your life you can change that instantly. Just change your mind.”
I think he might be on to something. Scientific studies have proved that we literally see something differently when we are in an optimistic mood to when we are pissed off. An American experiment found that baseball players perceive the ball to be larger when they’re hitting well and smaller when they’re hitting badly. Reality and our perception of it are way off since our perception is more flexible than Louis Smith in a wind tunnel.
No one can really be objective because it’s all based on your own subjective experience and your mood at any given time. Buddhism and neuroscience agree on this one – there is no fixed self. We can be several selves all at once in our own and other people’s minds: sister, daughter, fat, thin, interesting, dull and so on. It’s really just a question of perception. The same goes for something so apparently fixed and tangible as your environment. Some might consider Keighley a boring little town with nothing going for it; some might see it as a large, well-connected and friendly place with a surprising sideline in spiritual enlightenment. Many will have had both perceptions at different times.
Our reality only exists to us. Someone thinks you’re fine as you are somewhere – even if that is just in your mind.