Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Column: Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Considering a New Year’s resolution

A few days ago, some of my Marine buddies and I met at the Altadena Ale House to enjoy some Christmas cheer and toast the coming new year. After trading shots of Johnny Walker Black, they began to tell me of their shared New Year’s resolution.

“Joe, we’re planning a canoe trip in Canada in the spring,” one of them said. “We want to travel from the Great Slave Lake up the MacKenzie River toward the Beaufort Sea.”

I’m thinking to myself, “You guys are nuts! The Beaufort Sea! That’s the Arctic Ocean.”

Although in their 70s, I didn’t doubt my buddies were up for the challenge. Sparks and Ryan recently returned from a motorcycle trip around the world, and Johnny Logan competed in the Masters Marathon in Toronto.


They told me they needed a fourth guy to handle logistics, someone with river experience in a canoe.

“Where you gonna find someone like that?” I blurted.

They pointed out that I’d canoed the Yukon and the upper Missouri. They continued to press me to join the team, saying it could be my New Year’s resolution.

Although the challenge and adventure sounded appealing, I had resigned myself to a more sedentary lifestyle of writing, road tripping and eating chocolate chip cookies.


New Year’s is a time for reflection, a benchmark for measuring what one has learned in the last year along the winding roads we’ve traveled. The Romans understood this when they decided to mark the evolution of the new year in a month named after their god Janus.

Janus had two faces, so he could look ahead toward the future and back at the past. Their mythology tells us that as we rid ourselves of the old year, we look toward the new year and anticipate an enhanced self, based upon recognizing and correcting the shortcomings of the past. Thus, the New Year’s resolution was born.

Time has no divisions to mark its passage. The timing of the new year is particularly arbitrary. New Year’s Eve is like any other night; there is no pause in the Earth’s orbit or breathless moment of silence signaling the passage of another 12 months. However, there is indeed something unique about recognizing the potential of a new beginning.

The new year is a chance for new beginnings. It is a time to become more serious about life and plan new courses of action for improvement. I believe that on this day of the year, people take their values more seriously.

What then is the profound meaning of New Year’s resolutions? Every resolution we make implies that we are in control of ourselves and that we are not victims fated by circumstance. Instead, we can make choices to change our lives, which lie in own hands. Making resolutions is a resolve that we want to change something about our experience. Thus, we make resolutions that are founded in purpose, accomplishment and values. A more meaningful future is the essence of the new year, and the resolution makes experiencing meaning possible. This is the meaning of New Year’s Day and why it is essential to so many people throughout the world.

Since my buddies’ visit, I’ve decided that 71 is the perfect age to canoe the Mackenzie River. The trek will take us through some of the most pristine forests in North America and the current from the melting snow will push us at least 6 miles an hour. I’ll barely have to lift a paddle. Besides, I can pack dozens of chocolate chip cookies. Whether we make it to the Beaufort Sea or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s the journey that will enhance our 2019, and the adventure begins with the attempt.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at