New Year’s resolutions

Have you kept your New Year's resolutions so far? Picture: ON FILE

By Maria Millers

It’s two weeks since you’ve made your New Year resolutions and, most probably, like so many, you have already broken some, if not all of them.

You are not alone. According to a You Gov survey of 2022 only 28 per cent managed to stay with all their resolutions and 53 per cent managed to carry out only some of them.

Mark Twain had no illusions about human nature and its inconsistencies when in his inimitable acerbic way he thundered: ‘New Year’s Day: now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.’

So what then motivates people to indulge in what has been dismissed as a legacy tradition?

This tradition can be traced back thousands of years to Babylon where it involved the practice of returning borrowed goods and paying outstanding debts. In Roman times it came to be celebrated as the feast of Janus, the two faced god the month of January was named after.

Over time, the tradition evolved, and today many people around the world make resolutions at the beginning of each new year as a way to set goals and make positive changes in their lives. This could be as basic as cutting back on coffee, alcohol to committing time to volunteer in any of the areas that are crying out for help.

There are others who of course see the possibility of personal growth and improvement.

Perhaps one should ask oneself : Why do I want to achieve this? Is it purely for vanity and other self – aggrandizing reasons or is it for the improvement of my physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual wellbeing?

One reason New Year’s resolutions work for some people is that resolutions are a prime example of a psychological phenomenon known as the fresh start effect — a date on the calendar that gives people a sense of a new beginning and motivates them to make a positive change, according to  Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, ‘How to Change.’

Yet for many of us these are promises made in the heat of a moment and as Mark Twain said jettisoned as quickly.

Leaders often use the occasion to reflect on past achievements and offer messages of hope and unity. Today these messages range from the political, economic to social and

environmental. Of course, they are often self–serving. It is easy to mouth platitudes for peace in the world but at the same time turn your eyes away from the daily reality of conflict, poverty and injustices that fill our screens nightly.

The promise of a fresh start after hardship and loss can bring benefits and comfort, the sense of possibility and potential that comes with new beginnings: the transformative power of new beginnings Many poets have taken up this theme of new beginnings Among them is Rudyard Kipling’s seven stanza self – indulgent and humorous New Year Resolutions which begins with:

I am resolved—throughout the year

To lay my vices on the shelf;

A godly, sober course to steer

And love my neighbours as myself—

Excepting always two or three

Whom I detest as they hate me.

Throughout the poem Kipling lists the areas in which he should change his habits: gambling, flirting with young women, horseracing and giving up cigarettes for a pipe. There is a sense of ambivalence in his offered list and it doesn’t come as a surprise when he concludes how hard it is to keep such promises, and decides to tackle only one a year and chooses gambling.

In Ring Out Wild Bells, Lord Alfred Tennyson writing in grief on the sudden death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam in 1833 has Tennyson using the dying days of the year to overcoming his grief when hearing the church bells ringing:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

He wants the bells to not only ring out his grief but also to end the many wrongs he sees in his society: A repetition of what to ring in and what to ring out is an inventory of the ills of the society he was living in. But this could just as well be the New Year wish list of someone writing today and that is unsettling. And although the poem has a religious underpinning its content is all about social justice.

So, whatever New Year Resolutions you have made you can rest assured that those who have gone before you have made the similar promises, and undergone the same struggles to keep them. Let’s hope that at least some of your resolutions will survive through 2024.