Resolutions, But Why Now?
Welcome to 2023. New Year. New Beginnings. New Promises. For many, the New Year represents a time and place to wipe the slate clean, begin anew, and try to do better. The vast majority of us seek to assist ourselves in these endeavors with New Year’s Resolutions. We can make resolutions at any time. Yet, our custom and practice remains to reflect on our own self, candidly acknowledge our successes and limitations, and then resolve to change or improve on behaviors with the New Year.
But why January 1? Of course, as with so many of our traditions and customs, the origins rest with religion. At the beginning of each year, the Romans would make promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. The Roman god Janus is depicted with two faces always placed in opposite direction of each other. Janus could simultaneously see the past and provide vision for the future. As such, he was the gateway god associated with doorways, passageways and opportunities. “Janus” literally translates to “arched passage, doorway”. With insight to what has been and what may come, Janus symbolizes the beginning and end, as well as war and peace. More importantly, Janus represents transitions from youth to adulthood, life to death, and light to darkness.
Stressed in worshipping Janus for transitions would be the beginnings. The Romans sought the blessing or approval of Janus for a new cause or circumstance. Temples built to honor Janus are not found, but gates and entranceways abound with his image. Opportunity awaits on the other side of the gate. Changes lie ahead on the other side of the passageway. Janus is the god of change and possibility. For divine approval and support for a Roman’s resolutions for new beginnings, Janus was THE guy.
Fast forward to Medieval times, at the conclusion of the Christmas Season corresponding with the New Year, knights’ resolutions included renewal of their vows and commitment to chivalry. At about the same time, Christian churches began using New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day liturgical services for the Covenant Renewal Service. Congregants would prepare for the upcoming year through prayer and making resolutions. Watchnight Services at Christmas and New Years would incorporate religious resolutions by the congregants.
Use of New Year’s resolutions became a staple among organized religions through the centuries. Indeed, in the early 1900’s, a postcard with the following resolution message could be sent as a reminder to your closest friends and loved ones:
Wow! I would need to spend the vast majority of each day just attempting to remember what I resolved to do and refrain from doing with that resolution.
New Year’s Resolutions crossed over to secular society along the way. By 1813, the term “New Year’s Resolution” first appeared in a Boston, Massachusetts newspaper. In fact, the concept of New Year’s Resolutions was so well entrenched by this time that the Boston paper described the resolution process skeptically as follows: “There are multitudes of people, accustomed to receive injunction of the new year resolutions, who will sin all the month of December, with a serious determination of beginning the new year with new resolutions and new behaviour, and with the full belief that they shall thus expiate and wipe away all their former faults.”
At about the same time in the early 1800s, Walker’s Hibernian Magazine recognized that most failed to follow through on resolutions and published a list of resolutions some have solemnly pledged to keep. Those satiric resolutions included Statesmen resolving to have no other object in view than the good of the country; and Physicians resolving to be very moderate in their fees. Apparently, some things just do not change, even with a few centuries of resolutions.
At the end of the Great Depression, approximately one quarter of Americans made some type of New Year’s Resolution. That percentage slowly, but steadily, increased to almost 50% of Americans making such annual resolutions by the year 2000. 52% of us firmly believe that our resolutions will succeed when we make them. However, the actual success rate is closer to 12%.
With success so unlikely, we should ask why we keep making resolutions. I am no psychologist, but I do think that resolutions in some measure represent hope and faith in ourselves. In making a resolution, we have already noted a trait or condition in our own self which we want to change. In and of itself, that process is growth. We know we may not succeed in carrying out the resolution, but we achieve a heightened awareness regarding the actions and conduct we strive to alter. We have the opportunity to avoid such circumstances in the future. You may not have lost all the weight in your resolution, but perhaps you started on an improved exercise routine.
The one statistic which stood out for me is that 46% of people are more likely to succeed in achieving a goal when tied to a resolution than those with no resolution. Groups have been studied with weight loss and quitting smoking on this issue. For those who combined a stated goal (e.g., lose ten pounds) with a resolution to succeed, there existed an almost 50% increase in the success rate when compared with others who merely put forth a stated goal without a resolution. A resolution is a promise to ourselves and even third parties. There exists motivation with a resolution which otherwise is absent from the equation. Maybe guilt in not achieving the resolution plays a part. Whatever the reasons, resolutions undeniably assist us.
We have a New Year with 2023. Join the 50% of Americans and make resolutions if not already undertaken. The simple step of reducing a promise to yourself to a resolution already places you on the path for a greater chance of success. Who knows, even your own Janus is out there working on new beginnings for you.
In Estate Planning, some clients have difficulty discussing or entertaining the concept of their own demise. Even the word “death” casts a chill on the process as the finality associated with death is their very own. Perhaps Janus can assist with more than resolutions and serve as a reminder that with change (I.e., death), a new beginning can dawn for those for whom the client wants to provide. We can look forward to possibilities and not back to our own Earthly demise.
Good luck with your New Year’s Resolutions and Happy New Year!