This time of year is ideal for growing things underground Photo: GETTY
You are perfect in every way. You are the ideal weight. Your complexion is flawless. Whatever you like eating is exactly the food you need for optimum health and happiness. Your good humour and temperament are the admiration of your friends and family. The friends you have are both perfect in themselves and you have the perfect number of them to sustain you in companionship and intimacy. The place in which you live is ideal and not to be improved on. The work you do is well suited to your abilities and your financial needs. There is nothing in your life that could be better. Get down on your knees and give thanks for this happy state of affairs and carry on doing whatever it is you do to make life so very good.
The roots of this annual bout of self-flagellation are earthed, not in the enlightened principles of progress and perfectibility, but in deepest superstition. Human beings have always believed that the beginnings of things set a pattern, for good or ill. One of our most fundamental superstitions has you believing that, whatever you are doing at New Year you will keep on doing all year. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that most of us will be either broke, drunk or hungover.In short, dear and perfect readers, do not go to the trouble of making any New Year resolutions at all, and I can guarantee you greater happiness than most people enjoy at this time of year. The very essence of the new year resolution is the conviction that one isn't good enough. Rather than setting one's sights on perfection, the making of resolutions entails a cataloguing of one's flaws and failings. Who could fail to be depressed as a result?
Nevertheless, there is something about this time of year – the dark and cold, I suspect – that makes it a favourable time for introspection. Who wants to contemplate the meaning of life once the sap starts rising and the evenings grow lighter? The trick is to contemplate one's life in a spirit of kindness and optimism. In my first book, Everything I've Ever Done That Worked, I have a chapter called "When the Sea is Rough, Mend Your Sails". It is in praise of hibernation, and this is the energy we can best harness at this time of year. It is the ideal time for growing things underground. This could mean bulbs, or it could mean our hopes and dreams. Whether you are a gardener, or whether the garden you are contemplating is the landscape of your own life, this is a time to respond to the deeper rhythm of events.
Our culture doesn't support hibernation. No sooner are the leaves off the trees than a frantic season of electricity-burning and mad spending and acquisition follows. We spend too much and eat too much, and it is only now that the eating and spending are over that we come face to face with what we were fending off all along: the coldness and darkness that feel as though they will never shift. All those Christmas lights and frenzied shopping malls have failed to protect us from the elemental force of winter. But there is a restorative kindness in darkness, and a source of strength in silence.
The way to survive the downward pull of the dark is not to join the gym or put a curse on carbs. This is setting us up for failure. The time is better spent harvesting the resources you have, in feasting off friendships, catching up on reading or old movies or sleep. It is better spent dreaming, because our dreams are a guide to what will bring us happiness.
One dream will do to nurture through into the light of spring and summer. It could be a dream of travelling. A trip to somewhere you've always wanted to go, booked now, will be a light to pull you forward through January and February. It could be a dream closer to home. My neighbour made it her New Year resolution to start a book group last year. Just before Christmas, after a year of meeting and reading together, we met for a celebratory dinner and drank a toast to her and to the new friends we had made.
I have completely failed, year on year, to become any fitter or thinner but somehow each year brings a new exploration instead. It bothered me, despite years of choral singing, that I never knew what a "diminished seventh" was, so last year I signed up for a music theory class and now I know. Another new path that has brought me real joy is the habit I started last year of taking my camera everywhere with me and simply snapping at anything I found interesting, beautiful or funny. My visual diary gives me endless pleasure, in the seeing, the framing, the capturing and the reliving through looking at what I saw. There is pleasure in sharing what I see as well. This habit has enriched my life immeasurably because I now see so much more and I've learned, in practice, what I knew in theory: that everyday life is beautiful and extraordinary. If I have to make another resolution this year it is to become as skilled at filing and organising my photographs as I am enthusiastic about taking them.
I know, from hearing from you over the years, that many of you have found the one small change that will enrich your lives. Often this involves opening yourself up to chance. It means taking the unfamiliar path, speaking to the unknown person, trying a new food or learning a strange language. This isn't about grim self-improvement. It's about self-expansion, about taking your place in the world and experiencing it as an infinite source of joy and wonder.
In fact, that is it. Wonder. That is the one thing I wish for you this year, the one thing that will bring you alive again and lift your spirits. We have it as children when everything in life is new to us, but we can rediscover it. The way to reawaken wonder is to walk the world without expectation or prejudice. If you increase the amount of time you spend in nature and pay attention, I guarantee that you will find life wonderful. With my camera in my hand I have become alert to the constant changes in light and colour that animate even the least promising city street. When it rains, instead of grumbling, I cheer up because I know that magical new reflections are waiting for me.
There is wonder in art, of course. In the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, there is enough wonder to keep you going for a lifetime. It's not so much in the gold and ivory and silk on display as the extraordinary human visions and skills that created stories in a candlestick or a bishop's crozier. But museums are not for every day. If you go dog-walking or birdwatching or gardening you are carrying a freedom pass to wonder that never runs out.
Here's a simple thought for the New Year: everything is fine, but if you do feel fed up, go out and go for a walk. That covers most things. And if you must obsess about your fitness and weight in the traditional way, well, a walk should fix that, too. Happy New Year.
* Please write to me with your dilemma at: Lesley Garner, Features, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT or email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for understanding that I cannot reply to each individual letter. If I do use your letters, I will change the names.
Image of Lesley Garner from The Daily Telegraph