Happy New Year to all – hope you had a great holiday (I sure did), got the gifts you wanted (my kids were all home for Christmas!) and enjoyed a little R&R with family and friends (I sure did). And so, the New Year begins with goals and aspirations and that dreaded “resolutions” list. If you are like me, it’s probably quite a list – better health, be kind, more spiritual, patience, be organized – oh yea, that “eating right thing” too (That doesn’t even make the list!). It made me wonder “who started this resolutions thing” anyway – and of course the answer is perfect for my weekly posts. Thanks to History Channel and Wikipedia for filling in some of the info.
- Today, resolving to change and improve yourself and your life is an almost unavoidable part of the transition to a new year. Though it’s a pretty well documented fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail, we keep making them—and we’re not alone. The custom of making New Year’s resolutions is most common in the West, but it happens all over the world.
- The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago.
- They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year—though for them the year began not in January but in mid-March, when the crops were planted.
- During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions. If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.
- A similar practice occurred in ancient Rome, after the reform-minded emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar and established January 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C. Named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, January had special significance for the Romans. Believing that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year.
- In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
- For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Also known as known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year.
This tradition has many other religious parallels. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People can act similarly during the Christian liturgical season of Lent, although the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility. In fact, the Methodist practice of New Year’s resolutions came, in part, from the Lenten sacrifices. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.
- Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today are a mostly secular practice. Instead of making promises to the gods, most people make resolutions only to themselves, and focus purely on self-improvement (which may explain why such resolutions seem so hard to follow through on).
- At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year’s resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did.
- According to the American Medical Association [(AMA)], approximately 40% to 50% of Americans participate in the New Year’s resolution tradition. It should also be noted that the 46% of those who made common resolutions (e.g. weight loss, exercise programs, quitting smoking) were over ten times as likely to succeed, compared to only 4% who chose not to make resolutions.
Most Popular goals include:
- Donate to the poor more often
- Become more assertive
- Become more environmentally responsible.
- Improve physical well-being: eat healthy food, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, stop biting nails, get rid of old bad habits
- Improve mental well-being: think positive, laugh more, enjoy life
- Improve finances: get out of debt, save money, make small investments
- Improve career: perform better at current job, get a better job, establish own business
- Improve self: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time, be more independent,
- Put down the phone, less screens, watch less television, play fewer sitting-down video games
- Volunteer to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, volunteer to work part-time in a charity organization
- Pray more, be closer to God, be more spiritual
- The most common reason for participants failing their New Years’ Resolutions was setting themselves unrealistic goals (35%), while 33% didn’t keep track of their progress and a further 23% forgot about it.
- About one in 10 respondents say they make too many resolutions
- According to recent research, while as many as 45 percent of Americans say they usually make New Year’s resolutions, only 8 percent are successful in achieving their goals. But that dismal record probably won’t stop people from making resolutions anytime soon—after all, we’ve had about 4,000 years of practice.
For fun, email me your list. I’ll tuck it away for a few months, and then “check back” to see how you are doing.