History of New Year's Resolutions

by Lia Steakley Dicker

Whether it is the glittering ball in Times Square or a giant cheese wedge in Plymouth, Wisconsin, champagne flutes clink and kisses are exchanged as countless people toast the New Year. As the wave of celebrations travel across the globe, millions vow to kick bad habits and improvement themselves in an effort to make this next year better than the last.

Revelry and resolutions have been essential to ringing in the New Year since 2000 B.C. when Babylonians held semi-annual festivals around the spring and autumn equinoxes. Back then, people marked the beginning of a New Year by paying off debts and returning borrowed goods. The practice carried over into Roman times with worshippers offering resolutions of good conduct to a double-faced deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and endings. When the Roman calendar was reformed, the first month of the year was renamed January in honor of Janus, establishing January 1 as the day of new beginnings.

Photo taken by _dominic

Fast-forward a few millennia to New York City in 1907. That was the year Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of The New York Times commissioned the construction of a five-foot iron globe studded with 216 electric lamps. The one-of-a-kind ball fell from a 70-foot flagpole at midnight in Times Square on the last day of the year. With the inaugural drop an ancient ritual was transformed into a spectacular show.

Over the next century, the Times Square ball drop became a symbol of new beginnings and nearly 100 cities across the country replicated the tradition, substituting the glowing sphere for hometown mascots. Each year, the celebrations grow more grandiose as represented by the dazzling 1,200-pound sphere clad in Waterford crystal with 30,000 watts of light-emitting diodes that will descend this year on Dec. 31.

The same could be said of resolutions. Once a tradition of performing simple good deeds, modern-day resolutions often involve breaking negative patterns to eat healthier, save money, or be more organized. But this type of self-change isn't easy, especially when trying to fulfill such vague goals. The difficulty of accomplishing behavioral changes combined with the non-specificity of most resolutions is the main culprit behind the rising percentage of people who fail to keep their New Year's pledge.

A University of Washington study in 1997 found 47 percent of the 100 million adult Americans who make resolutions give up on their goals after two months. This figure has grown to 80 percent in the past decade, according to recent research completed at the University of Minnesota.

While the statistics are grim, your intentions to make 2014 the best year yet aren't doomed. Experts agree that writing down resolutions, sharing goals with others, and tracking your progress, can help you achieve success. Luckily, you can do this and much more by posting your New Year's resolutions on 43things.com. So the question remains: What do you want to do in 2014?

Lia Steakley Dicker is a Seattle based journalist and editor of the 43 Things Book: Dream It. List It. Do It. How to live a Bigger & Bolder Life


43 Things Login