New Year’s Resolutions have an unexpectedly long history. Ancient Babylonians are believed to have been the first to make them, about 4,000 years ago. But, instead marking their resolve on January 1, they did so in mid-March, when new crops were planted. During this festival they also pledged allegiance to kings, paid back debts, and returned borrowed items.
It was the Romans who decided to set the New Year to January 1. The Roman god Janus, for whom January is likely named, has two faces, one facing forward and one facing backward. Symbolically looking both backward at the last year, and forward to the oncoming year, Romans made offerings to Janus, and made resolutions for improvement in the year ahead.
It seems that the desire to mark a time to make things better is almost as old as civilization itself, and also appears to be just as widespread. Many world faiths, from East to West, have their own New Year or renewal festivals, and they almost all include reflection and introspection, making amends, and activities and pledges to ensure a better year ahead.
Taken in this light, New Year’s Resolutions may just be able to take on a more meaningful new life in our hoppy modern times. This year, instead of gamely pledging to exercise more or learn another language, consider a more encompassing approach.
- Take time to reflect on the past year, its events, and yourself as a part of that whole. Perhaps you now see larger patterns in your behaviour, or in those around you, offering you a better understanding and perhaps compassion for yourself and others. Maybe you have discovered resilience and strength from adversity, such as illness, job loss, or even the death of a loved one. For some, simple gratitude will be the take away from 2016, having been blessed hum-drum normalcy for twelve months.
- Look beyond the borders of your own existence. Consider your desires and defeats, your catalogue of experiences, and the minutia of daily choices, thoughts and feelings. Now, understand that every single person around you inhabits a similar universe, and vast swaths of it are — and always will be — inaccessible to you. So, be kind. And where needed, make amends, or simply release the pain and anger of discord and leave it in the past.
- Make ready for better things, things that have grown from your examination of the past year. Whether it is something small and practical, like “I will eat breakfast everyday,” or more substantial, like “I will spend more quality time with my family,” you will need to create a plan to make it happen. Clearly define your goal, and then break it down into smaller actionable steps. Finally, set realistic milestones on the calendar to carry you through 2017.