The new year is here and, as usual, it has arrived with a mixture of optimism and nostalgia. Whilst various people use different calendars for religious, social and cultural observances, the Gregorian calendar is used pretty-much worldwide as the standard for organising time and our existence within it. Furthermore, the change from one year to another is an almost universal reason to celebrate, commemorate, re-evaluate and reflect. New Year’s eve has always been a relevant excuse for a good-old knee’s up, with even those who would normally be tucked up in bed way before 10pm being tempted to stay up until the small hours to “see in” the New Year (as if it might not happen without us).
If the Gregorian calendar is essentially humankind’s attempt to overlay order (and the concept of time) onto astronomical realities, why do we celebrate at all, what does it mean for us individually and what can we take away from the New Year as a whole? Many people see the return to the first day of the first month as a chance to reset; make new year’s resolutions, get some closure on events of the previous year, verbalise and (in a minority of cases) actualise their hopes and ambitions for the new year. We essentially take the opportunity to “start afresh,” embracing Sartre’s freedom of existentialism for a short while and revelling in both choice and possibility. The New Year allows us hope and gives us the moment of self-reflection to believe we can positively improve the future, for ourselves and others.
What does this mean in a practical sense? Whilst it pains me to say this on the first of January, any individual’s feel of optimism is unlikely sufficient to end the war in Ukraine, stop world hunger, alleviate the climate crisis, revolutionise age-old unbalanced political systems or perceptibly improve the lives of millions of people. However, New Year’s resolutions have long been “a thing” and people’s desire to improve their lives, and the lives of others, is still a massive motivating force. Whilst the lead-up to New Year’s eve is rife with TV programmes, magazine articles and Facebook posts urging us to “look back” at the Best TV programmes of 2022, the biggest news stories of the year and all those recent memories which fill us with a mixture of comfort and nostalgia, the New Year is an opportunity to look forward, to hope, dream and make changes that benefit ourselves and others. We can figuratively “draw a line” under the past and collectively move forward towards a better future. Our New Year’s resolutions may not be able to individually affect the global social, technological or political landscape, but together our good intentions can effect positive change.
So, what about our New Year’s resolutions? We can certainly dream big and optimism should never be considered a negative factor. Following a study of over 3,000 participants, academic Richard Wiseman has come up with a number of tips for achieving one’s resolution goals. These include making only one resolution, planning ahead, avoiding previous resolutions and being specific about what you want to achieve. Furthermore, he has gender-specific hints for “following through,” such as setting incrementally measurable goals (for men) and going public with your intentions (for women). So, whether you want to get healthier, improve your local community, further your education or do more for charity, there are ways of “staying the course” and ultimately improving the world. Good luck, good planning and a happy New Year to you all.