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Happy low-key New Year

Some people are giving themselves permission to replace grand ambitions with more realistic expectations for 2023

Happy low-key New Year
Representative image

By Alyson Krueger

Erin Monroe, who lives in upstate New York and works in human services, knows that 2022 — our supposed post-pandemic, Roaring Twenties, carefree year — wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“I just feel like when I’m connecting with people, everybody has something happening right now that is hard,” she said. Her children, ages 9, 7 and 4, have been bringing home one virus after another from school. Her friends are worried about their personal finances and scared that the country is hurtling into an economic crisis.

“Then there are the bad things happening in other parts of the world,” she said. “It kind of feels like we are running against the wind with cement shoes on.”

Just before Christmas she started seeing the usual, predictable New Year’s content pop up on her social media feeds. “It was the ‘new year, new you’ or ‘let’s make it the best year ever’ type of stuff,” she said. People were making resolutions to achieve challenging goals, whether it was to pay off student debt or lose 30 pounds.

She thought it struck the wrong tone.

So, in her fluffy pink robe and glasses, she posted a video on TikTok suggesting a different approach to the new year. “I think we need to set some expectations,” she announced with fervor. “I don’t need 2023 to be my year; I need it to not be a soul-sucking drag through earthly purgatory.”

“I need 2023 to come in, sit down, shut up and don’t touch anything,” she added. “I need a palate cleanser year.”

The message struck a chord. Within two days, the video had 1.8 million views and thousands of comments. “I feel this in my soul,” responded one user. “I just need 2023 to simply ‘be,’” wrote another. Some people shared the trauma they’ve experienced this year, whether they lost a loved one or couldn’t pay their bills. The video now has more than 2.4 million views in less than a week.

Monroe, 36, wasn’t surprised. “I think people just want some relief, that they feel like they can take a deep breath,” she said. “People are saying I need a year where I can just get myself in order.”

Optimistically she added, “Maybe 2023 will be a primer for the best year ever.”

Sure, many people are still going into the new year with great excitement. The ball will drop in Times Square, fireworks will go off around the world, and many will make personal resolutions to start off on the right foot. TikTok and Instagram are full of predictable content hyping up the new year. Another TikTok creator, Zack Kravits, garnered more than 300,000 views with his video demonstrating all the ways you can “rebrand yourself” in 2023. (No. 12: “Do the thing that scares you.”)

But after yet another tumultuous year — more COVID-19 uncertainty, midterm elections, rising gas and grocery prices, gun violence, extreme heat waves in the summer and frigid temperatures in the winter — some Americans are opting to keep their expectations in check for 2023.

The American Psychiatric Association found that 26% of American adults expect to experience more stress at the start of the new year, up from 20% who said the same thing last December. Notably, 55% said that one of their greatest sources of stress was the uncertainty of 2023.

A recent survey conducted by Ipsos, a global market research company, found that only 65% of respondents reported feeling optimistic that 2023 would be better than 2022, compared with 77% a year earlier.

So rather than starting the fresh year with high hopes or great anticipation, many people are crossing their fingers for a year that simply isn’t terrible. It’s telling that Monroe’s viral TikTok made its rounds on the internet with the accompanying hashtag #Don’tSuck2023.

Nina Robinson, 39, a stay-at-home mother in Sacramento, California, used to love the start of a new year. “I love to make a list. I love to set up goals and have a plan to go after them,” she said. “I do often feel that energy in January.”

But this year she said she doesn’t have the bandwidth even to think about her goals, let alone achieve them. “This January I just want calm, and I want things to be as simple as possible,” she said.

Robinson feels worn-down by the past three years. “COVID is still here, and now there is RSV and, by the way, the flu is the worst we’ve seen in our entire lives,” she said. In 2022, her youngest child attended in-person school for the first time at the age of 7, which she said was a stressful transition. She also became a first-time homeowner, though she soon ran into a serious plumbing issue. “Buying a house was a goal we had for this year, and we accomplished that, but it came with its own can of worms,” she said.

“What we really need is a chance to pause and process and release the last three years, but we haven’t been given that opportunity because things are coming at us so quickly,” she continued. “Maybe this year we will finally get that, and then we can have a clear slate to move forward.”

Having low expectations, while perhaps sad, can also feel surprisingly refreshing. “There is all this pressure to achieve big things, but maybe it’s better to not eliminate everything you do in your current life and replace it with new habits,” Robinson said.

Monroe said she would at least start 2023 with something that made her feel good: connecting with other people who were thinking the same things she was. “That’s why I put my thoughts out there in my video,” she said. “It’s just funny that I was in my robe. It’s always the ones where I am in my robe that go viral.”

Krueger is a journalist with NYT©2023

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