New Year, New Me?


Anju Felix

Self-improvement is a concept almost all of us strive for.  Success in general is seen as a lifelong goal, and the ultimate goal during the New Year season is to prepare and strive for successful lives during the upcoming year.  For the first few weeks of January, we typically maintain the agenda of self-improvement through the creation of resolutions promising the formation of good habits and the riddance of bad ones.  But there is an essential question we must ask ourselves: how effective are these resolutions, really?  Do we set up these goals to simply draw upon some hope?  Do they actually serve a purpose if they end up being broken?  In other words, are New Year’s Resolutions just placebos?     

Initially, this concept of moral improvement was fueled by a desire to please gods, which contrasts greatly to today’s rationale.  The earliest peoples that promised and celebrated resolutions and the new year were the ancient Babylonians circa 2,300 BCE; they organized a huge twelve-day religious festival, Akitu, during mid-march (their calendar-based new year) and planted new crops during the festive season.  During the festival itself, they crowned a new king while pledging loyalty to all their leaders, including the previous king.  Subsequently, with a religious take on the secular holiday, they made promises to their pagan gods to pay any debts they had borrowed.  If fulfilled, the gods would supposedly provide favors for them during the New Year. If not, they would face the gods’ wrath.  The tradition of the “New Year, New Me” mentality is also prominent in the Roman Empire following Julius Caesar’s reformation of the Roman calendar.  The month of January was established by Caesar and named after the god, Janus, who had two faces, one that looked forward towards the future and the other that looked back on the past.  The Romans would employ the two faces of Janus by making resolutions to move forward during the new year and by forgiving enemies from the past.  They also viewed Janus as a god capable of forgiving sins committed during the past year.  This resulted in the offering of gifts presented to Janus’s name in hopes that the Romans would receive his blessings.   

Regardless of the religious roots, today’s New Year’s resolutions are created independent of gods; instead, people make promises directly to themselves. But as you can imagine, the believed consequences of breaking resolutions were much harsher on religious grounds, due to the fear of the wrath of gods.  As a result, we can believe that people were for the most part successful in fulfilling their resolutions back then. Unfortunately, in this day and age where the tradition is more secular, resolutions aren’t as commonly fulfilled.  On average, 72.6 % of American citizens break their resolution promises by the second week after New Year’s Day.  To get insight on our school’s resolution habits, a survey open to over a hundred students of various ages collected data on the success rate of their resolutions.  On average, only 25% of students fulfilled their New Year’s Resolutions (lower than the national average by 2.4%).  A low success rate coupled with the shift in rationale behind resolutions adds to the argument that they waste time.  Regardless, 59.1% of students still found that resolutions were worth making, and the majority of students found the process of creating resolutions fruitful, proving that even if it isn’t always viewed as a necessity, a period of reflection is essential to a successful future. Therefore, I urge you to take a moment to reflect and plan for a prosperous year before January 1st!  Cheers!