When & Why Did We Start Making New Year’s Resolutions?

By Kristi Eckert | 6 months ago

New Year's resolution

Making a resolution is something that is synonymous with the turn of a new year. It is a tradition that is recognized and practiced in many nations across the globe. It is a custom that is ingrained into humanity’s collectively shared culture. But have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why is it so natural for us to make a resolution at the start of every new year? One might be surprised to find out that the urge to commit to a resolve with the intention of following it through in the coming year actually has roots that can be traced back to ancient times. 

EARLIEST ROOTS

New Year's resolution

The act of making a New Year’s resolution is not a modern concept. Its earliest origins are found in the culture of the ancient Babylonians over 4,000 years ago. However, back then the actual practice of making a resolution looked quite different than it does today. In ancient Babylon, the beginning of their new year coincided with the start of the new harvest season when all the new crops were first planted. It is thought to have taken place sometime in mid-March as opposed to the beginning of January. 

To celebrate the new harvest the Babylonians would hold a 12-day-long festival. During the festival, in addition to planting the new year’s harvest, the people would pledge their unwavering loyalty to a newly crowned or reigning king. The ancient Babylonians, during this festival period, would also make it a point to make promises to their Gods relating to things they wanted to achieve or fix in the year to come. Those promises that the ancients made were the very precursors to what would become the act of making a New Year’s resolution in modern times. 

JANUARY THANKS TO JULIUS

New Year's resolution

The idea of the 1st of January being the start of the new year came about because of Julius Caesar. While, inarguably, he is well known for other reasons, you know he just did this little thing of completely reforming the republic of Rome. However, he is also the person who in 46 BC ancient Rome designated the first day of January as being the start of the new year.

The reason why Caesar chose January is rooted in the culture and religion of ancient Rome. Janus, after whom the month January is named for, symbolized the duality of reflecting on the past while simultaneously looking ahead to the future. Thus, it became widely adopted that every January 1st Romans would make promises to Janus that they intended to fulfill that year, similar to the promises the Babylonians made to their Gods. 

Throughout the centuries this idea of making a promise to one’s God or Gods with the intention of following through and making good on it never foundered. In fact, it quickly became a common practice in early Christianity as practitioners of Christianity also integrated it within the subtext of their religion. For instance, in 1740s England a clergyman by the name of John Wesley created the Covenant Renewal Service that was held on New Year’s day in his Methodist Church. During the service, patrons would make their promises to God for that year, not unlike what was done in ancient Rome and Babylon so many centuries prior. 

RESOLUTIONS TODAY

Despite the concept of a New Year’s resolution, in the past, being heavily tied to religion, today that is not the case. Now, making a New Year’s resolution is about making a promise or commitment to oneself instead of to a deity or holy figure. Modern-day resolutions usually reflect changes that one would like to make to their lifestyle, with by far the most popular in the United States being to exercise more or lose weight. Interestingly enough, exercising more is not the most popular resolution in other areas of the world. For example, in Japan, the most popular resolution to make is to read more. 

Other popular resolutions include things like getting organized, learning a new skill, checking off a destination on one’s bucket list, saving more or spending less money, quitting smoking, or being more present with and appreciative of family. Perhaps, the latter will be even more prominent than ever this year as the world continues to slowly rebound from a 2-year-long (and counting) pandemic. 

POPULAR BUT NOT EFFECTIVE?

new year's resolution

It’s no doubt that committing to a New Year’s resolution is something that is widely popular and practiced worldwide. However, as popular as the tradition is, a vast amount of people are never successful at achieving what they have resolved to accomplish. Statistics show that in the United States approximately 55% of adults will make a resolution. Of that 55%, only 8% will actually be successful in what they initially resolved to do. I’m sure many of us can relate to starting off strong in January with whatever resolution you may have chosen, and by February you’ve fallen completely off course. So how can this be rectified? How can you stick to your goal for the new year? 

There is really no one way to ensure that one will be able to adhere to what they promised themselves at the start of the new year. However, there are employable strategies that can increase your rate of success. A few of which include being as specific as possible with the goal you choose as well as only choosing one so as to not overwhelm yourself, putting time into planning out how you intend to go about achieving what you set out to do, learning from past mistakes, and remember to be kind to yourself because no one person is perfect, that’s the beauty of being human. 

TO CONCLUDE

new year's resolution

The act of making a resolution is firmly rooted in the ancient origins of humanity. It is a steadfast and enduring tradition that continues to resonate and be practiced by millions of people around the world. It is something that, in a way, connects us all. So, as we collectively enter this new year, take a moment to reflect on the historical significance behind it, and if you choose to join the millions of others in making your own unique resolve remember to be kind to yourself on your quest to fulfill it.