Imagine a personal paradise this year

For 2013, don't just fine-tune existing mediocrity: create a really radical resolution

The end of 2012 pushed us miserably into the new year. Yes, the fireworks in Sydney, Dubai and London were stunning, but they weren't enough to blot out remembrance of the horrors of the Delhi rape and the outpouring of women's horrific experiences, or the suffering in Syria and elsewhere, or any number of tyrannical brutalities around the world.

New year celebrations are on the one hand a communal band-aid on a world that is bloody, bruised and in need of emergency care, a temporary salve on colossal horrors. On the other hand, in our personal lives they are a bridge away from a past hell towards an as yet unimagined paradise.

New year's resolutions are simply our way of envisioning what that paradise might look like. Mostly, although inherently good, our aspirations are small: lose a few kilos, stay in touch more, give up a bad habit. But even at this micro level of change, a study from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK says that 78 per cent of us fail to achieve our goals.

At a macro level, we are rarely brave enough to be radical in imagining a different kind of future. What is it that we actually want, and how should we restructure our lives to achieve it?

The hurdle, in my view, is a paucity of imagination, a lack of belief that there can be a different way to exist where the parameters of living do not conform to the hellish rat-race.

At the end of last year I had the chance to travel to Langkawi, an exquisitely beautiful island in Malaysia that seems to be almost entirely composed of beach resorts.

As I looked out from the balcony of my room, white sand and soft blue waves shimmered in front of my eyes. Even without having stepped on the beach I could imagine the warmth of the sand and its affectionate kiss on my feet. Trees were rustling from the breeze of the sea air, and somewhere close to the horizon the sun was dissolving from gold into pink. "Paradise", I thought to myself. I've arrived in paradise.

I felt a jolt: how did this come to be my depiction of paradise? Why, when selling holidays and happiness, are virgin beaches and clear waters our modern view of the eternal home?

Our vision of life in paradise is at best cookie-cutter, dictated to us by cultural norms. At its worst it is a mirage to keep us bound to modern-day chains that we do little to release, but do much to dream our way out of.

In the 2004 Tom Cruise film Collateral, Jamie Foxx plays a taxi driver who keeps a picture in the visor of his cab of the limousine he hopes to buy and start up a business with.

After 12 years of driving his taxi as a "temporary" measure, he's done little to change his life. He's so stuck in his hell that he even lies to his hospitalised mother that he has in fact started his limousine company. It's only a wake-up call from assassin and passenger Tom Cruise that leads Foxx through a gruesome awakening to making his vision of paradise a reality.

But it's not horror that should trigger the creation of the life we want: it should be imagination, an imagination that is so vivid it materialises before our eyes.

This year is the year to create a vision of what paradise means to us. Don't just fine-tune existing mediocrity. This year, have a radical resolution, and then make it happen.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at