The Futility Of A New Year’s Resolution

New Year, Same New You

Mostly everyone is a horrible person in some way or another. It doesn’t really matter in the minutes leading up to midnight on New Year’s Eve whether one recognizes this or not, and especially when they manage to wake up sometime during the afternoon the next day, vowing to not drink for a month or hold themselves to some sort of challenge that will ultimately lead to their demise. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but the new year is not going to bring out a new version of yourself, regardless of how many resolutions you drum up. The same person is still going to be inside of that body, with the same calloused soul that continues to try to be better but never seems to change. Resolutions centered around the beginning of the calendar year are archaic pursuits that never seem to elicit some form of profound change, and if anything, this concept more or less strings along the problems that we all have.

I enjoy asking people what their New Year’s resolutions are going to be because then I play a game that’s called “Guess How Long This Will Last For.” Some people will pick something easy: no sugar, eat better, read more, go to the gym, stop ignoring your parent’s phone calls even though it’s been over two months since you last spoke. The easy list can go on and on. Low-hanging fruit, truly.

 And then there are more difficult resolutions that range from the personal, to the broad concepts that apply to just about every single thing that you do. Maybe some include: quit smoking, stop calling your ex, mend a broken relationship, or even (my personal favorite), be a better person.

I love hearing these answers. The genuine expressions of joy that blossom on people’s faces when they tell me what they are going to change when the clock hits midnight is a sight to see, and I enjoy it even more when those expressions begin to sour, especially when these same people begin to realize that holding themselves to these resolutions—both easy and difficult—isn’t going to change their life upon completion.

A new year doesn’t mean there’s going to be a new you.

A new year means that for a month or two you’re going to feign back and forth over your resolution until you finally reach your breaking point. For a brief period of time you may stay strong and carry out this resolution like some sort of daily routine, but eventually that too shall succumb to the tribulations of everyday life. You will return to being the same person as last year and that’s that.

 A quick recap for those who may not be as well versed in the history of new year’s resolutions as others. The first new year’s resolutions began nearly 4,000 years ago, being celebrated by the Babylonians. Among other festivities that occurred when they celebrated the new year, according to Sarah Pruitt’s The History of New Year’s Resolutions “[The Babylonians] also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.” Sacrifices were part of these promises, along with returning farm equipment that had been borrowed, all in order to stay in favor with the gods. Humble beginnings for resolutions. 

The tradition of these yearly promises to better oneself were also practiced by the likes of Julius Caesar during his reign over the Roman Empire, invoking many of his subordinates to make a promise to the gods once again, and if they kept said promise to the gods they were told a good fortune would eventually come their way. The stakes for resolutions back then were much more serious, but the history books may have simply omitted the sections where Babylonians made a promise with themselves to be more outgoing during the next year, or a Roman would agree to lay off the wine for a month. 

It’s obvious, but these original concepts of trying to be better in the coming year revolve more around sacrifice and not trying to anger whatever god they worshipped at the time.

We aren’t sacrificing anyone so that we may have a better chance at survival for the upcoming year, and I highly doubt that any sane human around the world regretted not murdering someone in the name of their god just so that they may get a raise. For some this may seem like a fair trade, and even though the government may want this concept instilled in us, we should strive to not think like this. Don’t be Babylonian about the new year. However, there are some similarities between the brevity of resolutions during ancient times and how long they seem to last today. A lot of resolutions revolve around completing one challenge that people hope will change the trajectory of their year. And isn’t that essentially the same as the Babylonians? Resolutions are making one fickle promise that we hope will change everything without actually resolving any sort of issues. 

So, why are we still doing this? Why are we still honoring this system of supposed changes that we will make to better ourselves and those around us, especially when it’s something that has gone on for thousands and thousands of years to no avail?

I’m conflicted why such a collection of the population prioritizes the changes that they may be able to find in themselves at the start of the new year as opposed to staying consistent with those changes in the hopes that they will evolve into people becoming less and less horrible. In easier terms: why do people value making a change in their life at the start of a new year versus when they are in the midst of the year? What difference does it make to come to terms with these issues in July versus January?

The calendar resetting represents wiping the slate clean. A fresh start to the next 365 days that will surely be life altering to say the very least. But if those who value the challenge to better oneself only recognize the thin stretch of time between the holidays and the first couple of weeks into the new year as the only time they should resolve the issues they have with themselves, are they not already doomed to fail before the new year even begins? When I recall the various resolutions that I made with myself over the years, I’m not at all stunned to realize that most of, if not all, of the things that I wanted to change didn’t stick at all or fell apart once the year rolled on.

Realizing that you need to make some changes in your life tends to not work out all too well if you’re just following along with what other people are doing, crafting a list of ways you want to be better for the new year just because it’s expected. Natural change occurs when you least expect it, and I argue that it almost never seems to be while you watch those numbers dwindle down to zero. Odds are that everyone will still be the same even as the celebration begins to die down, and reality washes in to reveal that genuine resolutions don’t take effect until we differentiate our own issues from everyone else’s, and I’m certain they go farther than trying to read more.

The Babylonians and Romans thought the same way, spitefully making promises as the year began so they wouldn’t anger the gods that reigned above them. And when these civilizations were finally crumbling, the last things on people’s minds were that they should’ve held that promise they made, their resolutions were to blame for all this undoing. It’s an obsolete mindset that only perpetuates issues at the individual level. 

I sound like a cynic, a surly old man that spits whenever joyous people attempt to improve their actions from the past year. But more introspection is required when people want real change to take root. Talking about changing isn’t going to make the change occur any more than yelling at a plant to grow will actually make it sprout from the soil. Horrible people will remain horrible until they come to see the light and make the changes that they need to become less horrible than they’ve been. Maybe, they need to sacrifice a goat or two to get the ball rolling, but let’s hope for the best even as we expect the worst.

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