'Never Miss Actors Studio Sessions': Famous New Year's Resolution Lists

Jonathan Swift, Susan Sontag, Marilyn Monroe, and Woody Guthrie had big plans for themselves.

banner_marilyn.jpg
Marilyn Monroe and her husband Joe DiMaggio in 1954. (AP)

'Tis the season for New Year's resolutions, but instead of regurgitating the most common ones—like changing habit loops, exercising more, and being more productive—here is a look at some of history's more unusual resolution lists from the diaries, letters, and personal effects of cultural icons.

JONATHAN SWIFT

Writing in A Tale of a Tub in 1699, at the age of 32, Jonathan Swift best-known as the author of Gulliver's Travels author—compiled a list of 17 aspirations for his far future, titled "When I come to be old." Focusing on wisdom, humility, patience, and justice, the list brings to mind Benjamin Franklin's famous thirteen virtues, penned around the same time.

swiftlist.jpg
When I come to be old. 1699.

Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.

(via Lists of Note)

SUSAN SONTAG

In 1972, 39-year-old Susan Sontag noted in her diary:

Kindness, kindness, kindness.

I want to make a New Year's prayer, not a resolution. I'm praying for courage.

Then, in early 1977, she resolved:

Starting tomorrow—if not today:

I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)

I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. ('No, I don't go out for lunch.' Can break this rule once every two weeks.)

I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg's Waste Books.)

I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.

I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much—as an escape from writing.)

I will answer letters once a week. (Friday?—I have to go to the hospital anyway.)

MARILYN MONROE

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In