With year's end, an extraordinary number of otherwise sensible people come to believe, for just a few weeks, they can and should improve themselves.

At just the moment when you should be able to lie guiltlessly amidst shredded Christmas wrappings, your mind reeling from the effects of supermarket eggnog, there are forces at work telling you to be better than that. So instead of luxuriating in holiday excess, you probably will decide the coming year should be different, better, more productive. It's scary.This impulse is fed by the media and encouraged by peddlers of self-improvement schemes, books and videos, as well as the makers of home exercise equipment.

Perhaps, too, it's the cumulative influence of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." For the past month, it has been seen on VCR and videodisc player, acted in school auditoriums and rerun on television where the alert channel-surfer might even spot the animated version in which the old miser is played as Mr. Magoo (1963). Maybe Microsoft is making an interactive version, I don't know. (Double-click for Ghost of Christmas Past.)

Occasionally someone even reads the book. You should resolve to do so next year. Add it to the list.

"A Christmas Carol" is a spectacular case history of end-of-the-year improvement. The spirits did their work in one night! A three-step plan for better living!

But Christmas is merely the warm-up. New Year's Day is to self-improvement what Valentines's Day is to love. Somehow the blank calendar, the new day-book, the unfamiliar year-number on the masthead of the newspaper, all conspire to create the Myth of the New Start.

We get very few New Starts in our life. And the ones we do get first day on the new job, first day at the new school, arrival in town are all so stress-inducing that they invite our more basic survival responses, not reflection. A reflective new start, whatever its value, has to be a little bit phony. Otherwise, we wouldn't have time to reflect.

So a clean stack of pages in the date book (it cost me $2.98 this year) does the job for us.

Looking ahead at these 365 clean and numbered boxes on crisp paper, I knew I would need something to show for 1995.

I thought long and hard. The answer was breathtaking in its simplicity I resolved not to improve noticeably in 1995.

The mid-'90s are going to be a steady state for me. If I finish reading "Moby Dick," I also will dawdle away hours playing "Donkey Kong Country" in realistic 32-bit rendering. If I work myself into better shape, I will use my new-found endurance to party later into the night. If I do better work and turn it in earlier, I'll whine at editors and park in the advertising staffs' parking spots.

I'll be selectively better in many ways this year, but nobody should expect any improvement. Which is how self improvement usually works, anyway. If everyone understands this early in the year, everyone will be happier.

Note: I didn't say "better," just happier. The Declaration of Independence says nothing about the pursuit of perfection, only the pursuit of happiness. And that's what I'm for this year.

"If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life," Henry David Thoreau wrote. So where am I to run if I am trying to inflict good on myself?

My resolution in 1995 is to watch out for resolutions. I promise only to reach 1996 in a better mood.