At the beginning of the new year, many of us eagerly make our resolution. We look at our lives, seriously attempting to divine what we need to change. We do so with the best of intentions. But as we’ll see, our success may hinge on the nature of that resolution.
Origins of Making a Resolution
We come by the idea of making New Year resolutions honestly. It stems from ancient Babylonia, several millennia ago. At the time, their calendar began in the spring in March. This was known as Nisannu, the first lunar month of the calendar.
At this time, around mid-March, they’d hold Akitu, a huge religious festival. At the time, they’d crown a new king and as part of the celebrations and they’d make promises to the gods to live a good life—paying their debts and so on. These promises, would eventually become our resolutions.
“Stele of Hammurabi” from the Louvre Museum (Image Source: Wikipedia).
Although, we understand New Year resolutions as something undertaken in January rather than March. So, fast forward to Roman times.
In time, the Romans had adopted Babylonian New Year. They continued the tradition of making resolutions at the top of their year, in mid-March. The Roman Calendar system was also initially based on a lunar calendar.
However, in c700 BC, a funny thing happened. King Numa Pompilius altered the calender. He added two additional months—Ianuariusi and Februarius—which were intended to account for the winter. Further decisions moved these two months to the beginning of the year. Now, the beginning of the year was in January rather than March, hence the timing of the New Year’s resolutions we all know and love.
How Things Have Changed
Naturally, the early pledges of the Babylonians and Romans were closely tied to the harvest. Thus, intentions to pay debts related to farming or other promises were tied to the harvest. This would’ve been common practice.
Times change and centuries later, in mediaeval times, noted resolutions were tied to the world of knights with the “Peacock Vow.” This was a pledge to uphold the values of knighthood.
Taking the Peacock Vow. Jacques de Longuyon of Lorraine is the author of a chanson de geste, Les Voeux du paon (“The Vows of the Peacock”), written for Thibaut de Bar, bishop of Liège in 1312. It was one of the most popular romances of the 14th century, and introduces the concept of the Nine Worthies, the ideals of chivalry (Image Source: Wikipedia).
Still later in the 18th century, there was a religious flavour to the remembered resolutions. It was merely a determination to live a good life in the coming year.
Fast forward again to more modern times and we’ve seen a curious trend in the resolutions. Many are linked to some form of self-improvement. A poll completed by Forbes Health/One Poll in 2023 noted how the top resolutions focussed on improving fitness, improving finances, improving mental health, weight loss and improving diets.
Where Things Go Wrong
Everyone has the best of intentions when they make their resolutions. However, for the vast majority, these new year’s resolutions tend to only last for two to three months. Indeed, many people fail to succeed with their New Year’s resolutions.
There are various reasons why people may not be able to uphold their pledges. Some explain how the idea of change needs to be more deeply explored. Terry Bly, a clinical psychologist has stated how “the pain of not changing has to be greater than the pain of changing.” Only then can we maybe find real change.
Maybe we also fail to realise the true nature of the change. For instance, anyone can say they want to lose a certain amount of weight. But it’s not simply about eating less. It’s also about exercising more.
Moreover, it’s about not getting up at night and having something to eat or maybe not snacking and so on. In this sense, it’s tied to the fact changes require a change to our lifestyle. That’s no small endeavour.
That small insignificant resolution to “lose weight” rattled off on the 31st of December must involve a much larger change to our entire lifestyle if we have any notion of succeeding.
Still, there’s another reason we may be failing in our resolutions.
Maybe It’s Not All About Me
What we note about the majority of the most popular resolutions is there focus on ourselves. “I” want to improve my level of fitness or “I” want to improve my finances. Now, no one’s saying the wish to improve these aspects of our lives aren’t admirable goals.
Although, there’s another option. Say we choose a New Year’s resolution tied to others. For instance, we may say we want to explore what’s involved in setting up a community garden. The wisest first move is to arrange for people to sit on the board. In so doing, it’s a goal that moves from “mine” to “ours.”
Moreover, we’ve now got a resolution intended for the community. This involves more than just “me.” It involves all of us. In so doing, it brings in the notion of oneness. And when we feel a sense of oneness, we feel connected to everything and to all.
The tendency is then to work closely with others in cooperation and collaboration. We are all at one with each other, recognising the myriad interrelations and interconnections that bind us together. So, ultimately, to help another is to help ourselves and everyone for whom we care.
In so doing, the likelihood of accomplishing our resolution greatly increases. There are unquestionable gains to our mental health when we help others. Essentially, most of us are hardwired to do good things for others. When we do, our levels of stress diminish. Practising altruistic actions can also lead to what some refer to as a helper’s high.
Benefits of Helping Others
When we help others, it places life in a new perspective. Sometimes when we help others, we gain an understanding of the seemingly insurmountable challenges some face. As the old saying goes, there always is someone worse off than we are. Such a perspective is invaluable.
Helping others also broadens our world view. For instance, as a resolution, we may say we’ll volunteer at a homeless shelter. It’s possible our only previous understanding of homelessness was walking past people begging on the street. Although, with this experience, the “homeless” become people, ones we may just as soon like. Experiences similar to this one would undoubtedly broaden our world view.
Some Final Thoughts
Hopefully, with a little thought, we can make a resolution at the top of the year with more assurance of being able to see it through. As we know, whatever we choose to do, it’s always best to start small. However, if we really want to meet with a winning resolution, not to mention, make a difference, our resolutions can be centred on others.
And if things aren’t looking great in terms of our success with the various resolutions we made at the beginning of the year, there’s still hope. Some look to the 17th January as a time when we can provide that extra push we need to find success. And what the heck, if things are really not looking good, then come the 17th January, we can make a change and throw our efforts behind something that will truly ignite our personal fires. There’s always hope.
Boeckmann, Catherine 2023 “The Interesting History Behind New Year’s Resolutions” https://www.almanac.com/history-of-new-years-resolutions
Davis, Samantha and Alexa Hall 2023 “New Year’s Resolutions Statistics 2024” https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/new-years-resolutions-statistics/
Goal Mastery 2024 “19 Surprising New Year’s Resolution Statistics (2024 Updated)” https://insideoutmastery.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/
Kedia, Surabhi 2020 “Oneness: Becoming Whole with the Universe” https://themindfool.com/oneness/
Pruitt, Sarah 2023 “The History of New Year’s Resolutions” https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions
Sexton, Chrissy 2021 “New Year’s resolutions are more satisfying when they’re focused on others” https://www.earth.com/news/new-years-resolutions-focused-on-others-are-the-most-satisfying/
Trovato, Tegan 2022 “Here’s why summer may be the perfect time to revive your annual resolutions” https://www.fastcompany.com/90760697/heres-why-summer-may-be-the-perfect-time-to-revive-your-annual-resolutions
Tsipursky, Gleb 2016 “Is Serving Others the Key to Meaning and Purpose?” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intentional-insights/201607/is-serving-others-the-key-meaning-and-purpose
Vinney, Cynthia 2023 “The Psychology Behind Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail” https://www.verywellmind.com/why-new-years-resolutions-fail-6823972
iThis is January in Latin.