New Year's Resolutions should be meaningful, fulfilling
TORRINGTON – Despite its religious roots for many cultures, people and times in history, New Year’s is mostly a secular celebration worldwide, especially in the United States. Instead of making promises to God or gods, people make promises to themselves and focus purely on self-improvement or selfish indulgences.
According to Pew Research, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) 2021 joint study, roughly 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions but only 9% of those who do are successful in keeping them.
The same study concluded just 75% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions are successful or on track to continue after the first week. That number drops to 65% after the first month and to 46% after six months. Roughly 33% of Americans who make resolutions are successful by the time fall begins.
According to the study, 23% of Americans forget about their resolutions between three to six months into the year.
Of the most popular resolutions, such as being healthier, saving money or healing old traumas, just 5% of resolution makers are successful by the end of the year.
In December 2022, Pew Research revealed a study which suggested only 23% of Americans planned on making New Year’s resolutions for 2023.
My religious leaders have us studying the book of Ezra, found in the Tanakh for us Jews or the Old Testament for Christians, and something struck me in my studies as it relates to New Year’s resolutions.
Yahweh stirred in the heart of Persian King Cyrus to release the Hebrews back to their ancestral land in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, their motherland, in 538 B.C. because the new generation had obeyed HaShem (God) while in captivity and kept the law.
You’d have to do a bit of reading back in 1 and 2 Chronicles and 1 and 2 Kings to understand the significance of this. The prophets Jeremiah and Joshua both foretold how the Jewish exiles would be carried off by the Babylonians and Persians but also how they would have to stir in their own hearts to return to Yahweh in confession, works, deeds and lifestyle to be brought back out of captivity. It would be another 18 years before the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was restored and when the returning Jews could complete the rebuilding of the Temple.
This second exodus began just after Rosh Hashanah, during the Feast of Booths, which is typically held near the start of October. It was a new year, a new beginning for them – and what did they do as soon as their feet stepped back on the land in which their ancestors were given? They immediately began following Torah laws in rebuilding, restructuring and reestablishing their local government, their local cities, their Temple and their local lives. They did not hesitate to ensure the leaders were appropriately from the Levite lineage of Aaron, Moses' brother.
However, they encountered a snag when the locals who had moved in during their exile, and who had ulterior motives, wrote a letter to the king, surrounding governors, officials and Persian leaders demanding the king stop the rebuilding efforts. They were successful in their pursuit.
The Hebrews had to wait until a new king rose to power to complete building the Temple, however, they remained steadfast in keeping the laws as they did under captivity. Their “New Year’s resolution” lasted for more than 18 years but they did not falter. They were doubly rewarded to not only be given the green light to rebuild the Temple, but Israel was returned home as well, a double portion of blessings.
When we make short sighted resolutions, they are intended to fail us, every time. When we make superficial resolutions, they will never reward us the way we think they will. When we make resolutions, we often forget some may take longer than we had anticipated or would like, so we get discouraged and give up. Maybe this year, we make resolutions which might span a few years or ones impactful, meaningful, practical and easily carried through. Maybe start with reading five minutes a day in silence or, if you’re the praying kind, spend the first five minutes of your day in prayer and worship. Whatever resolutions you make this year, ensure they feed your heart, mind, body and soul to be more successful in keeping them.
Historical background: Some 4,000 years ago, the first New Year’s resolutions were uttered by ancient Babylonians in mid-March during a 12-day celebration marking the beginning of the planting season, in addition to crowning new kings or affirming existing ones.
This festival was known as Akitu, and Babylonians, which means “confusion by mixing,” made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return things they had borrowed. The Babylonians believed if they kept their promises, their pagan gods would bestow favor on them in the coming year. However, if they had not, they would fall out of favor with their gods and misfortune would strike.
Hundreds of years later, around 46 B.C., reformist Roman Emperor Julius Caesar revamped the calendar to mark Jan. 1 as the start of the new year and to pay homage to their god, named Janus, a two-faced god whose spirit inhabited the betwixt places such as doorways, arches and changing seasons. Romans believed Janus symbolically investigated the past year and ahead to the future year to come, in which Romans offered sacrifices and promises to Janus to perform good deeds as well as to maintain good conduct in the new year.
During the Georgian era, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII modified and replaced the Julian calendar for a similar one we use today. It would change one last time in 1750 when England’s Parliamentary act modified the calendar to include a restructured leap year calculation, erased the 11-day discrepancy and readjusted it to fit within the Earth’s yearly rotation. At the same time, the Pope cemented New Year’s as Jan. 1 and it went into effect in 1752.
English Clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, further consummated the religious revival era in 1740 by establishing the Covenant Renewal Service. These services were commonly held on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and were known as watch night services where parishioners read from scriptures and sang hymns. These services offered an alternative to increasingly rambunctious celebrations. Most would spend the evening praying and making resolutions to do good deeds or further ministry work in the new year.
Other groups, like Jewish people, continue to celebrate New Year’s during Rosh Hashanah, which typically occurs in late September as the harvest season comes to an end, and the Chinese people continue to celebrate New Year’s using an older version of the calendar in late January.