A New Year's resolution is a secular tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice, such as opening doors for people beginning from New Year's Day.
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.
At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year's resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did.
Early 20th-century New Year's resolution postcards
Some examples include resolutions to donate to the poor more often, to become more assertive, or to become more environmentally responsible.
Popular goals include resolutions to:
- Improve physical well-being: eat healthy food, lose weight, exercise more, eat better, drink less alcohol, quit smoking, stop biting nails, get rid of old bad habits
- Improve mental well-being: think positive, laugh more often, enjoy life
- Improve finances: get out of debt, save money, make small investments
- Improve career: perform better at current job, get a better job, establish own business
- Improve education: improve grades, get a better education, learn something new (such as a foreign language or music), study often, read more books, improve talents
- Improve self: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time, be more independent, perhaps watch less television, play fewer sitting-down video games
- Take a trip
- Volunteer to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, volunteer to work part-time in a charity organization (NGO)
- Get along better with people, improve social skills, enhance social intelligence
- Make new friends
- Spend quality time with family members
- Settle down, get engaged/get married, have kids
- Try foreign foods, discovering new cultures
- Pray more, be closer to God, be more spiritual
- Be more involved in sports or different activities
A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
It is also noted that talking with a counselor about setting goals and new year resolutions can help people keep their resolutions.