Would you believe that the history of New Year's resolutions is rooted in a time period that is well over two millennia? This ancient practice is rooted in Babylonian times; the act of making resolutions every year has been practiced ever since. The New Year is always seen as a time for new beginnings, for making a fresh start, and for integrating positive elements into one’s life. The act of making resolutions therefore typically focuses on making commitments to improving one’s self, one’s environment, one’s family, and on health improvements.
History Of The New Year’s Resolution: Early Beginnings
The history of the New Year’s resolutions begins with the Babylonians. Nearly four thousand years ago, Babylonians often celebrated the evening before the first full moon occurring directly after the first day of spring or Vernal Equinox. This culture had a habit of making resolutions on the New Year. One common resolution focused on returning things that were borrowed from friends and neighbors. These resolutions were an act of good will that led to self-improvement through acts of kindness, honesty, and ethical behaviors.
The ancient Romans also made regular New Year’s resolutions, although their New Year occurred in March, not January as it is today. The calendars differed at the time, and the season of Spring, beginning in March, was an ideal time to make New Year resolutions focusing on new beginnings and improvements. In the year 153 BCE, the Roman Senate named the first month of the year after the “two-faced” god Janus who was a god associated with transitions and new beginnings.
The depiction of the god Janus literally represented the god’s ability to see all things present and past, and it also represents the different directions that new beginnings can and do take. In addition, the god was believed to be a forgiving deity, one that would forgive any transgressions committed in the past. Janus was considered a guardian over doorways, both physical and non-physical. The exit of one year and the entrance into another can be viewed as a doorway guarded by the “two-faced” guardian god Janus. It was a common practice for ancient Romans to give the god gifts or offerings and to make certain promises to him at the very beginning of every year. It was believed that the god would then bestow blessings upon them in the coming year.
When Romans celebrated the New Year, they did so by asking for forgiveness from their enemies and offering gifts to each other. Although the dating of the New Year changed quite a bit over time, many of the traditions that the Romans practiced remain intact. The practice of making resolutions on the first day of the year is a time honored, ancient practice. In ancient times, it was believed that hosting elaborate rites would help in chasing the spirits of the past away. Chinese people used fireworks and cymbals as well as purification rites and exorcisms to start off their New Year’s celebrations. Other cultures used parades, bonfires, and processions where masked participants symbolized the deceased. The entire process involved the notion that past evil spirits, entities or demons were banished when frailties, temptations, bad habits, and past transgressions were denounced. The elaborate rituals would then free the person from oppressive energies and bad luck.
Interestingly, the history of New Year’s resolutions reveals that all too often resolutions are made, forgotten, and/or broken. The history of making New Year’s resolutions also reveals how different resolutions were made over time. As mentioned earlier, when Babylonians made resolutions, they focused on returning items that they had borrowed. By 154 BCE, the Romans were making resolutions to Janus to receive the god’s blessings for the coming year. In the early 1720s, Jonathan Edwards, a theologian and puritan, wrote seventy resolutions that he was committed to reading on a weekly basis to remind him of the commitments written down. In the late 1730s, Benjamin Franklin wrote about the notion of making resolutions on New Years for the purposes of banishing baneful habits. Even later, in 1821, The London Times published an Essay by Charles Lamb that examined the notion of beginning the year anew.
The Most Common New Years Resolutions
The history of New Year's resolutions is loaded with some surprising facts. This is especially true when one looks at the most common resolutions that people make today.
The types of resolutions made have changed over time, and the success of completing New Year's commitments varies depending on age, resolution, will power, and circumstance.
A Few Common Commitments
Fact #1: Thirty-eight percent of all resolutions involve weight loss.
Many people make commitments to exercise, diet, shed pounds, and memberships at local gyms commonly increase around the first of the year. In fact, you may even note the increase of gym membership advertisements that often begin in the month of December. Some people make the resolution to choose healthier food selections rather than entering into a strict diet. This is due to the fact that many people who resolve to lose weight at the beginning of the year usually fall short of their rigid commitment to do so.
Fact #2: Forty-seven percent of all resolutions are either education or self-improvement related.
With the myriad health issues associated with excessive drinking or with the use of tobacco, many people seek to quit using such products. Additional reasons for making such resolutions include the fact that excessive drinking and smoking are costly habits, so making resolutions to quit typically involve the hopes that one can save a lot of money in doing so while deriving the health benefits of quitting cigarettes or refraining from drinking. When it comes to quitting smoking, the success rate is often low; 15,640,000 million smokers attempt to quit during their first year of smoking and less than then ten percent are successful. The truth is, the more addicting the habit one attempts to resolve, the greater the likelihood one will fail at doing so. But it's interesting to note that an increase in the number of attempts to quit smoking and/or drinking is directly associated with greater chances for success - so keep trying.
History Of New Year's Resolutions - More Top Resolutions
Fact 3#: Thirty-four percent of all New Year's resolutions are money related.
Among the top resolutions made during the New Year, people sometimes focus on improving their cash situation. This is particularly true when faced with a tight economy and an ever-rising price of gasoline. These types of resolutions often pertain to making a budget and sticking to it, to reduce one's level of overspending, to putting more money into a savings or retirement fund, and to improving a job situation by searching for new work. Additional resolutions commonly focus on getting and staying out of debt and it is not uncommon to find people starting debt counseling or debt management programs around the first of the year. Some consumers resolve to cease charge card spending and to pay off accumulating credit card debts. These resolutions often involve committing one's self to tracking all expenses so that sources of spending can be more readily identified and curbed.
Fact 4: Thirty-one percent of New Year's resolutions are relationship oriented.
Whether looking to improve an existing love relationship, to find a new love, or to improve the relationship one has with friends and family, New Year's resolutions seem to be the focus of relationship improvements. Some people resolve to spend more quality time with children and spouses or other family members while others may plan more outings and family gatherings. Some individuals may even focus on improving their relationship with colleagues, fellow employees or their boss.
Fact #5: Forty-seven percent of all resolutions involve the notion of improving one's education.
Many people like to resolve to learn new things and to expand their horizons in the upcoming year. Whether resolving to learn new things at home or to take a few courses at a local university, getting educated is a method of self-improvement that many people seek. Some want to become more educated in hopes of getting a better job, and some people want to take up new hobbies, new languages, instruments, cooking, or other related activities.
More Surprising New Year's Resolution Statistics
The younger that a person is, the more likely they are to follow through with any New Year's resolution one has made. Statistics reveal that thirty-nine percent of all individuals making resolutions while in their twenties managed to fulfill their resolutions either yearly or bi-yearly. Meanwhile, fifteen percent of those that are aged fifty years or over fullfill the resolutions that they make yearly or otherwise.
Some of the most interesting statistics pertaining to making resolutions surround the notion of happiness. Studies have revealed that the more dissatisfied a person is, the greater the likelihood that they will make yearly New Year's resolutions. In fact, if the resolutions are money oriented, the likelihood that a person is unhappy is even greater as forty one percent of all people that make money related resolutions are dissatisfied with their life. While thirty four percent of people that make resolutions involving money would consider themselves somewhat satisfied, and only twenty-five percent are really happy.
Finally, studies have found no direct link with resolution setting to success and happiness. Even when a person succeeds in fulfilling his or her resolutions, it statistically does not seem to have any bearing on whether the individual is truly happy or not.