“New Year, New You?” – New Year’s Resolutions

With the New Year amongst us, Rosemarie Gibbons explores the history of this long-held tradition, and asks whether resolutions are still relevant amongst people today.NEW Year’s resolutions are seen as essential part of marking the end of the festive season, and beckoning in the New Year. While Christmas is the season for overindulgence, New Year’s resolutions are seen as the (sometimes harsh) wake-up call.Those boxes of Celebrations under the Christmas tree and telly-watching marathons, once seen as an essential part of the Christmas season – and the ‘treat yourself’ mentality that invariably comes with it – are seen as strictly verboten by January 1st, and are replaced by intentions to partake in intimidating ‘clean eating’ regimes, and sessions of hot yoga.We’ve been making resolutions to ‘make this MY year’ for 4000 years, since the ancient Babylonians rang in the New Year by making promises to the gods that they would repay their outstanding debts, hoping it would bring them good fortune in the coming year. The religious roots of the New Year’s resolution continued well into the 1700s, where early Methodists would hold ‘watch night services’ on New Year’s Eve, usually spent praying and again, making promises to the gods.It continued as a mostly Western and religious tradition until modern times, where resolutions become less about pleasing the gods and more about self-improvement. Whether it’s learning a new language, becoming fitter and healthier or travelling more, we are now firmly in the age of the self-reflective New Year’s resolution.Declan, a second year Science student, didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year. “Personally I don't believe in them. For myself, the goal is too vague”. He continued, “I don't feel too different after a change in year, so if I wanted to resolve something I would need a more specific goal”.When considering their purpose, he says he believes most people have good intentions when they set out to make New Year’s resolutions, however “the mind set of [the] people doing it is wrong. I feel most people who have a resolution are only doing it because everyone else has one; so they don't look lazy”. When considering the sticking power of some of the more grandiose resolutions people tend to make, he adds “the lack of true motivation is why I feel most resolutions are dead and buried by February”.The failure rate of New Year’s resolutions is certainly something to consider: a study exploring this not-so-modern phenomenon, published by Richard Wiseman of the University of Bristol in 2007, showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions failed, despite many participants originally showing extreme confidence and eagerness to commit to their resolutions.Furthermore, in the age of social media, the pressure to ‘self-improve’ – and later document it – is very real. Not a day goes by when the average Instagram user isn’t bombarded by a multitude of ‘#transformationtuesday’ or ‘#fitspo’ posts, and with shows such as Operation Transformation on RTÉ becoming a national phenomenon in its own right, the outward pressure to make a ‘big change’ in the New Year is evident, and contagious.Declan believes it is this pressure to conform that has fuelled the tradition of resolutions for so long – “People are more like sheep than they care to admit. I feel people only make resolutions at New Year because everyone else is, because you see it posted everywhere on social media”.Daniel, a second year English and History student, also accredits societal pressure as having a role in making these resolutions. He also believes that people’s motivation to make changes in their lives in the new year actually stem from a much bigger fear of failure- “You [make] a New Year’s resolution so you can say to people, ‘my life is going somewhere’, because no one likes to be thought of as wandering aimlessly”.However, Emma, a second year English and Drama student, sees the value in making resolutions for the New Year- “to act as sort of stepping stones or a kind of map to get [people] where they want to be”.Emma calls her only resolution a ‘simple’ one – “if I was to do anything differently in 2016, it would have been to have more fun”. She says it won’t be an easy one to follow, admitting it is something she is “struggling to incorporate”, and puts it down to exam and general life-related stress.“There are just so many things to worry about. In the final weeks coming up to the end of term, when assignments and essays and feedback sessions and exams pile on top of you like a tidal wave, we abandon [having a] life because we have to”.New Year’s resolutions could be labelled by the cynic in all of us as ‘a waste of time’ and a particularly self-serving trend – their low success rates certainly speak for themselves. However, in the wake of the past year, where certain events in the public sphere challenged people’s idea of what was possible on a much larger, worldwide scale; perhaps the idea to harness the strange adrenaline rush of reigning the New Year to promote one’s own personal goals or wishes, be they superficial or momentous, are exactly what people need to face a brand new year.