Every year, a majority of us will make New Year’s Resolutions with varying degrees of success. Some swear to give up smoking cigarettes, while others go out to enthusiastically purchase a gym membership. Some promise to work harder, others to spend more time with loved ones. Whatever you vow to change in 2014, you may not be aware why we actually take part in this tradition, or where it all came from.
The origins of New Year’s Resolutions are dated back to the ancient Babylonians, who every March promised their Gods that they would settle any outstanding debts. However, it was the Romans who moved the tradition to January with the formation of their calendar. The etymology of the word January is based on Janus, the Roman God of endings and beginnings whose two faces look back into the past year and forward into the next. In homage to Janus, the Romans often made promises to be kinder or more compassionate at the beginning of each year.
With the 4th coming of the Century and the declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman state, worship of the pagan Janus was replaced with a new combination of prayers and fasting. In fact, the pagan connotations of the tradition made many Romans were uneasy of making New Year’s Resolutions at all. As late as the Eighteenth Century, Puritans in Colonial America went as far as to informally rename January “The First Month”, so as to avoid any relationship with what they considered to be a false deity.
However, as time went on the Puritans and other civilisations began to make promises and commitments which were closer to what we now consider a New Year’s Resolution. From using their expertise to help others, to avoiding the most common of sins, individuals began resolving to make positive changes when the January arrived each year. Perhaps the most notable example of New Year’s Resolutions came from American theologian Jonathan Edwards, who collected over 70 resolutions over the two years immediately after his university graduation.
Many of Edwards’s collection involved treating others in a more positive way, or improving his own quality of life, and today’s New Year’s Resolutions aren’t so different. Most of us will vow to eat healthier or lose weight, improve our financial situation, enjoy a holiday, or take up a new past-time like painting or cooking. Many of us make our New Year’s Resolutions with the best intentions, but scientific researchers have recently confirmed what many of us considered to be true anyway – most of us simply don’t stick to them.
In 2007, researchers from the University of Bristol worked with 3,000 participants and discovered that 88% failed to keep up their resolution, despite 52% initially showing confidence that they would. However, improvements were noticed when people set smaller, more manageable goals as opposed to vague statements like “Lose weight” or “earn more money”. So, if you’re planning to keep up this tradition, could you set yourself a measurable and achievable goal?
Will you be making a New Year’s Resolution in 2014? How confident are you that you’ll succeed?