If you’ve ever made a promise on New Year’s Eve to bring about a beneficial change going forward in your life, something that would improve your personal, social, or professional life, you are far from alone. Nearly half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, the most common usually made by at least one out of every three resolution-makers, is the pledge to increase overall health and fitness with a proper diet. New Year’s resolutions are common in Western civilization, but the tradition is practiced pretty much around the globe. Whether you actively participate or not, you will be amazed to know how far back the practice extends.
These annual betterment pledges actually began as far back as 4,000 years, when the Babylonians made promises to their pagan gods at the start of the new year (which for them began in mid-March when their crops were planted) that they would pay back their debts and return any items that they had borrowed. To the ancient people of Mesopotamia, the implications were that not being true to their word would put them in poor favor with their gods. Never a good idea. Likewise, honoring your promise was believed to bring good fortune and prosperity the following year.
The Romans picked up the practice when Julius Caesar, the noted reform-minded emperor, altered the calendar to establish January 1 as the first day of the new year around 46 B.C. The first month of the year was named for Janus, the two-faced deity, who symbolically looked backward in the old year and forward into the new one. The Romans would offer sacrifices and pledge good conduct to this god at the beginning of every year.
In Medieval Europe, knights vowed to reaffirm their allegiance to chivalry at the end of the year, while followers of early Christianity spent the first day of the new year reflecting on past transgressions and vowing to make amends.
Near the middle of the 18th century, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, also known as Watch Night Services. Typically held on New Year’s Eve, or on January 1, it provides the opportunity for Christians to review the year that has passed and make confessions, and then make resolutions for the coming year. The services, which often include singing, praying, and preaching, are quite popular with evangelical Protestant churches, today.
In Judaism, beginning with their new year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), worshippers are expected to both seek and offer forgiveness for wrongdoings, perpetrated by and against them.
About the only thing that has changed over the millennia with regards to the New Year’s resolution is that the promises people make at year’s end these days are kept to themselves. No longer pledging self-discipline or tolerance to an Almighty Being is something that is not insignificant. This is an observation that has been made by many people, and it may be partly to blame for the difficulty so many of us have in fulfilling our resolutions. Without a spiritual or religious component and no immortality repercussions, it makes it considerably easier for someone to be lax on keeping their personal promise. In fact, numerous studies show that almost nine out of every ten New Year’s resolutions fail. Approximately a quarter of resolutions fail after only one week, and it just goes up from there, 40% are abandoned after a month, 50% after 3 months, and 60% after 6 months. You get the picture.
But do not despair. There is reason for hope, because it is proven that setting a goal, any time of the year, is the most important factor because there is a 0% chance of succeeding without making a commitment, or resolution, in this case. And keep in mind that goals made in public and with the support of family and friends stand the best chance of being achieved. So, don’t give up on that New Year’s resolution. At least you know you’re not alone.
When it comes to dietary and nutritional resolutions, tradition says that eating more leafy greens on New Year’s Day will herald prosperity for the entire year. And that is something that we can all do.