It’s that time of the year again. When you post your Spotify Wrapped on your Instagram stories, make plans on how to end the year and most of all, start jotting down some New Year resolutions – ambitious ideas that will likely crash and burn by March.
In a study conducted in 2018, fitness app HealthifyMe found that nearly 82 percent of people do not stick to their new year resolution of being fit for more than a week. It’s not hard to imagine that number has only increased since the pandemic.
16 days into your New Year's resolution pic.twitter.com/E4zpOtFpKK
— Netflix (@netflix) January 16, 2020
So why do we still make new year’s resolutions? The ancient Babylonians were historically the first people to do so, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year, not in January, but in mid-March, which is when they planted their crops. Romans eventually adopted the custom and before we knew it, making resolutions (and failing at keeping them) became an unspoken tradition of the new year.
Many cultures across the world celebrate the new year in their own way, in their own time. Chinese people have their own celebration based on the traditional lunisolar and solar Chinese calendar. In India, we have Diwali, Gudi Padwa, Pongal, Baisakhi and many more that vary with region and culture. As with the Babylonians, most new year celebrations across the world centre around the beginning or end of the harvest season. The Gregorian calendar that we recognise globally has interesting nomenclature surrounding the beginning of the year as well. The name ‘January’ comes from Janus – the ancient Roman two-faced god who has one head one facing forward and one facing back. This represents his ability to look both forward and backward. Janus was the protector of arches, gates and doors, as well as beginnings and endings.
Some suggest that we use resolutions as an excuse to overindulge at the end of the year. “I’ll eat healthier starting Jan 1st so might as well eat as much junk food while I still can.” So by the time January comes around, we’ll spend much of the new year making up for the damage done in December rather than working towards a new goal.
A 2020 study also says that when people want to change something in their lives, they often start at a temporal landmark, such as the beginning of a new semester. We even do this in our everyday life. “It is 2:31 right now, I’ll start my work at exactly 3:00.” This is what researchers have dubbed the ‘fresh-start effect’. The new year is possibly the most temporal landmark of all time.
That being said, it is interesting that people hardly ever make resolutions on Diwali or Gudi Padwa. Only January 1st seems to sparks such optimism for change. This could have something to do with the global acceptance of the Gregorian calendar. No matter what their religious beliefs, most young people have to abide by January 1st as the beginning of the new year, and therefore associate it with an opportunity to start afresh.
Whether we keep our resolutions or not, ultimately, the new year provides an opportunity for us to look back on the year and evaluate our progress. It is a way to leave all our bad decisions in the past. As for why we feel compelled to set goals, it is also a good way to feel more in control. The new year provides a clean slate – a way for new beginnings, on our own terms.