Tuesday night, thousands of people from all over the world flocked to Times Square to watch the ball drop. They counted down, they hugged, they kissed, they cheered, they watched Miley Cyrus, and welcomed with open arms a new year full of possibility.
It’s a new year and optimism is in the air—
So why do I not feel any different?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy New Years Eve. But then again, I enjoy any occasion where I get to party with all of my friends and wear copious amounts of glitter. I just feel it’s a bit foolish to feel some sort of opportunity for self-actualization as the result of a mass practiced tradition.
It’s as if people use New Years as a form of Tabula Rasa. The clock strikes midnight, the ball drops, and our flaws are magically erased. We are able to forge into the future with a clean slate, wiped free from the sins and tribulations amassed from the prior year.
However, after the glitz and glimmer, the kisses and toasts, the promises and proclamations of newness have all faded into memory—we realize nothing has changed. We know our struggles from the day before will carry over. We will still be in the same financial debt, we still wont be able to fit into our dresses from high school, people we lost the year before won’t come back, feuds will continue.
We’re still the same people with the same bad habits. There are no magical “fresh starts.”
Studies say that 88% of individuals do make New Years Resolutions do not fulfill them. In fact, I read somewhere that a majority of resolutions are forgotten after February.
So why do we continue this cycle year after year?
I can’t help but wonder though if all of these “resolutions” are really just a method of cataloguing and acknowledging our shortcomings. We feel comfortable openly evaluating our dissatisfactions if we mask them with optimism.
Sure, writing down your resolutions may feel like a step towards progress—but really it’s a reflection of something from the past that isn’t quite right, and needs to be changed. The act of setting goals for the new year fulfills our desire for self-authorship over our own futures. It makes us feel as if we have control to define our own outcomes in a chaotic and random universe.
It’s a tale as old as time, people have been doing it for centuries:
“The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.
The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.
There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People may act similarly during the Catholic fasting period of Lent, though the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility, in fact the practice of New Year’s resolutions partially came from the Lenten sacrifices. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.”
The underlying theme behind all of these rituals? Self improvement. A desire to right wrongs, to make peace with others, to reach a state of inner peace—to become a better person.
It’s great that people want to better themselves. It’s wonderful to see people optimistic. However, I have to ask— Is this action a triumph of the human spirit over history and expectation? Or is this all another self-indulgent act to mask our dissatisfaction with our human condition?
Most importantly… If there is an overwhelming chance that we are doomed for failure, why do we continue to set New Year’s Resolutions?
Do you set New Years resolutions? Why? Why not?
PS: I should probably resolve to get a manicure.