I love it when the New Year is here. It’s like a blank slate…a chance to ‘do-over’. If the past year has been difficult and full of trials, it is a chance to forget and start again. If the past year has been full of blessings, it’s a chance to bask in contentment and look forward to more. In reality, it’s just another day, but civilization has created a defined end and beginning with the start of a new year. Regardless of the religion or calendar used, the passing of one year to the next is universally a time of reflection…on looking back on the completed year and a time of planning for the upcoming one.
What I hate about the New Year are those pesky resolutions. Statistically, less than 10% of resolutions are kept. And, it’s no wonder why. Most resolutions focus on our faults. Will we lose weight, will we exercise and get more fit, can we get more organized, can we get out of debt, or will we spend more time with family? While we can all use a little self-improvement, I think that New Year’s Resolutions can be self-defeating due to the unnecessary burden we place on ourselves.
The origin of New Year’s resolutions dates back for hundreds (of not thousands) of years. 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. Some churches hold “watchnight” services on New Year’s Eve at midnight so that Christians can 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.
So, by tradition, resolutions have always been about self-improvement. But, I wonder if we might be more successful if our resolutions weren’t so much about us. Perhaps, we would do better if we focused more on doing for others…or better yet…doing for God. I certainly don’t have it all figured out. I do know that if I do have a resolution for 2014, it is to be more positive in my life…to worry less and enjoy the moments more. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.