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.
At the end of the Great Depression, about a quarter of American adults formed New Year's resolutions. At the start of the 21st century, about 40% did.
Early 20th-century New Year's resolution postcards
Improve mental well-being; think positive, laugh more often, enjoy life
Improve finances: get out of debt, save money, make small investments
Improve career: perform better at current job, get a better job, establish own business
Improve education: improve grades, get a better education, learn something new (such as a foreign language or music), study often, read more books, improve talents
Improve self: become more organized, reduce stress, be less grumpy, manage time, be more independent, perhaps watch less television, play fewer sitting-down video games
Take a trip
Volunteer to help others, practice life skills, use civic virtue, give to charity, volunteer to work part-time in a charity organization (NGO)
Get along better with people, improve social skills, enhance social intelligence
Make new friends
Spend quality time with family members
Settle down, get engaged/get married, have kids
Try foreign foods, discovering new cultures
Pray more, be closer to God, be more spiritual
The nature of New Year's resolutions has changed during the last decades, with many resolutions being more superficial and appearance-oriented than in previous times. At the end of the 19th century, a typical teenage girl's New Year's resolution was focused on good works: she resolved to become less self-centered, more helpful, a more diligent worker, and to improve her internal character. Body image, health, diet, and desired possessions were rarely mentioned. At the end of the 20th century, the typical teenage girl's resolution is focused on good looks: she wants to improve her body, hairstyle, makeup, and clothing.
A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
Quoting Frank Ra (author of the new year's resolution book "A course in happiness" ): "Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution, and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution. Peer-support makes a difference in success rate with new year's resolutions". It is also noted that talking with a counselor about setting goals and new year resolutions can help you keep those resolutions.
^ abLennox, Doug (2007). Now You Know Big Book of Answers. Toronto: Dundurn. p. 250. ISBN1-55002-741-7.
^Julia Jasmine (1998). Multicultural Holidays. Teacher Created Resources. p. 116. ISBN1-55734-615-1.
^ abJames Ewing Ritchie (1870). The Religious Life of London. Tinsley Brothers. Retrieved 28 December 2011. "At A WATCH-NIGHT SERVICE: Methodism has one special institution. Its lovefeasts are old-old as Apostolic times. Its class meetings are the confessional in its simplest and most unobjectionable type, but in the institution of the watch-night it boldly struck out a new path for itself. In publicly setting apart the last fleeting moments of the old year and the first of the new to penitence, and special prayer, and stirring appeal, and fresh resolve, it has set an example which other sects are preparing to follow."