As many as 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.
As few as 8% keep them. (Most of these are skinny, self-driven perfectionists.)
The past two years, the most popular (and statistically the most failed) resolutions were to exercise more, lose weight and get organized.
No doubt fervent and healthy aspirations, but contrast those to the top resolutions from some 75 years ago.
In 1947, the top New Year’s resolution was “to improve my disposition, be more understanding, control my temper,” which now would have a hard time surviving New Year’s Day football.
A close second in 1947 was “to improve my character, live a better life.”
Both of those were more in keeping with the long tradition of New Year’s resolutions.
In the West, this goes back 4,000 years to the Babylonians.
Under their calendar, the new year began in March with the planting season. In a 12-day celebration called Akitu, the Babylonians made promises to their gods to repay their debts and return any farm equipment they had borrowed.
Two millennia later, Julius Caesar introduced a new calendar, starting the year under the watchful eyes of the two-faced god Janus. Romans offered sacrifices to this god, who they believed could see into the future as well as the past, making promises of good behavior.
The Church used to observe the Circumcision on Jan. 1, not the most festive beginning to a New Year. But it was really Epiphany that marked the transition with its own message of change, sacrifice and generosity.
Christians made their New Year’s resolutions throughout the passing ages, commitments to being better believers, family members and neighbors — to pray more, to gossip and covet less.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, formalized this in 1755 with his New Year’s Eve Watchnight, which was a rededication to a life in God. The heart of the service was a prayer of resolution:
“Let me be Your servant. ... I will no longer be my own. Lord, make me what You will. I put myself fully into Your hands: put me to doing, put me to suffering … let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and with a willing heart give it all. …”
There’s nothing wrong with resolving to eat more kale or join a spin class, but just reciting this prayer is another healthy option.
Regardless of your choice, I hope the blessings of 2023 long outlast your resolutions.