The History and Science Behind New Year’s Resolutions


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Happy new year to 2022!

With the New Year still close behind, many people worldwide are making and thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions. However, our resolutions have become such a staple in peoples’ lives that few take the time to stop and think about how it all started. Who came up with the idea of setting goals for the year ahead? Is there a reason to make them? And what is the ultimate benefit of them?

There are multiple possible origins of our modern New Year’s Resolutions. One theory has to do with the ancient yet influential civilization of Babylon. Historians say that the Babylonians used to reaffirm their allegiance to their king and to the gods they believed in at the beginning of the new year. They would do this by making promises to pay their old debts, return any borrowed or stolen items, and do good deeds to make up for their past evil deeds. By doing this, Babylonians believed that they would be rewarded in a fitting way. This could, possibly, be considered one of the ancestors of our modern resolutions. 

Another possibility for our resolution’s forerunners could be found in Ancient Rome’s more well-known and influential civilization. Under the rule of Julius Caesar, the current lunar calendar was changed to the Julian calendar, with the first day of the year being January first. The Ancient Romans believed that if they offered sacrifices and promised to do good in the new year, they would be bestowed by Janus, the namesake of January, with a good year ahead of them. Another idea that historians have is that the early Christians started it all. To them, the first day of the year was time set aside to pray and reflect on God, themselves, and the past year. This may have later evolved to what a large population of the world practices today. Over the many centuries, as beliefs and values changed and spread, so did the tradition of making goals and promises for the new year. 

Of the 330 million citizens of America, only a quarter of them commits to their New Year’s Resolutions. 77% of them stick to it for a week, and even then, only 19% of them are still with their goals at the end of the year. So why do such a large number of people fail to complete their New Year’s Resolutions? The answer has to do with making and breaking habits. In order for an average person to create a new habit, it takes about 66 days of commitment and repetition and a bit shorter of a time to break a habit. Most people don’t have the patience to stick to their goals, so they forget about their resolutions until the following year when the cycle starts all over again.

So, why do so many people continue to make their New Year’s Resolutions if they know that they won’t be able to reach them? Although many don’t realize it, by making resolutions, they recognize their current situation and how far they are from their ideal situation, which is the first step in improvement. Another reason why it is better for everyone when someone makes a resolution is that it inspires others to do something and motivates them to improve. Even if people don’t make their resolutions, just thinking about one’s New Year’s Resolutions can encourage them to take action, even if it’s just subconsciously.

Although nothing in history can be certain, historians can take a pretty good guess as to where New Year’s Resolutions originated from. However, they have evolved into something more influential, inspirational, and beneficial for everyone since then.