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Dante, Gauguin and the futility of new year’s resolutions

Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Women on the Beach (1891)

It’s hard to resist the “siren call of a recreated life”, says Ann Wroe in The Economist. At the end of last year an average of four million disillusioned Americans a month were quitting their jobs, along with 130,000 Britons. And who can blame them? Why “toil in a grey office and return to suburban dullness” when you can travel the world in a camper van or move to a mountainside in Vermont?

Alas, all idylls lose their charm, as the Romantic poets discovered in Italy. Despite taking up yachting and Dante, they “carried their illnesses and neuroses with them, and therefore didn’t improve much”. It was a similar story for the painter Paul Gauguin, who in 1891 moved to Tahiti to live “sensuously” in a bamboo hut. Ten years later he departed, disillusioned, ill and poor. The same principle applies to new year’s resolutions. “Men soon find that a weekly sweat-session in the gym doesn’t necessarily make their pecs rock-hard, and women discover that no amount of exfoliation, conditioner or goat’s milk will turn them into Helen of Troy.” Rather than seeking to drastically change our lives in January, we should just try to be a tiny bit better every day of the year.

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