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Are New Year’s Resolutions Inherently Selfish?

The new year in American culture is the quintessential meaning of new beginnings and change. According to Forbes Magazine, about 40% of all Americans make new year’s resolutions, most of which begin pre-planning those resolutions a few weeks beforehand. Newspapers, television shows, celebrities, they all celebrate the idea of starting off the new year the right way. But do these resolutions actually create change for the greater good, or are they just inherently selfish?

Most Common Resolutions

With the start of a new year, people set life goals for themselves to become better people and to cross off an item on their bucketlist. People tend to make the same resolutions every year and about 47% of those resolutions are based around our own self improvement.

Top 10 resolutions of 2015 from

  1. To lose weight
  2. Get organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Stay fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family and friends

The concept of making a new year’s resolution is so ingrained in us that it almost feels foreign to not at least try one out. But why is it that our resolutions are always focused around ourselves? How many people actually make resolutions to give to charity, or volunteer at their nearest food pantry? Maybe the answer lies in history.

The Beginning of New Year’s and Resolutions

Each story has a beginning and new year’s resolutions are no different. In 46 BC Julius Caesar named January 1st as the beginning of the new year. This was in part to honor the Roman god Janus who had two faces that could see both the past and the future. Some scholars consider Janus as the god of new beginnings thus symbolizing the new year as the start of new beginnings and cause for celebration.

The new year’s tradition however, goes back even further, 4,000 years ago to be exact, in ancient Babylon according to Back then, the Babylonians actually celebrated the new year with the coming of the spring season in March. It was these Babylonians who first started making promises, or what we consider resolutions, during this time. The reason for these promises was to start the new year off right and gain praise from their gods. If they were able to keep their promises, the Babylonians would be blessed with good fortune for the rest of the year. Even though most of their promises were to pay off debts which would help other people, the Babylonians only kept true to them so that their year would be better. Looking back through history shows that resolutions were created to help ourselves have better luck. This thought process has continued and even today we keep making goals that fulfill our dreams and not the dreams of others.

Take action to help someone with their bucketlist

Using Resolutions to Help Others

Statistic Brain Research Institute states that only 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions and 75% of people who stick with their resolutions within the first 2 weeks peters down to about 46% by the 26th week. An author at PosiblNews suggests so many of us fail because we are making resolutions that only benefit ourselves and not others.

So how can we minimize the selfishness of our new year’s resolutions? Let’s make a new bucketlist with great ways to give back this new year.

  1. Donate: Organizations tend to see a big increase in donations around the holidays which decreases after the new year starts, so try using some of those Christmas bonuses and give money to those less fortunate.
  2. Volunteer: Check out your local community organizations and see if they need any extra help. Your hard work and kind spirit could be a dream match for communities that need more helping hands.
  3. Pay it Forward: Helping others as part of your life goal can be as simple as doing random acts of kindness. Offer to help someone carry their groceries to the car or pay for a coffee for the person in line behind you. Your simple act of kindness will influence others to do the same. An author for The Guardian researched and wrote that, “giving is a fundamentally social act” and that “seeing others give makes an individual more likely to give.” If a person sees you offer your help to someone else or sees you make a donation at a cash register in your local grocery store, they are more likely to offer their help as well so try paying it forward and start a new trend!
  4. Activate your Activism: Try your hand at peaceful gatherings for something you’re really passionate about, like the environment or civil rights. Just being there in support of a cause could fulfill a lifelong dream of yours and make a difference in other people’s lives as well.
  5. Change the lives of your friends and family: Call a friend or family member who might be going through a hard time. Just hearing your voice or having someone to listen to them will help get them through a stressful time. Even if your friend or family isn’t going through a difficult time give them a call anyway! They might need help moving, or need someone to go to the movies with. Any little gesture for someone else will go a long way and help you keep your resolution.

Make a Buddy BucketList

Another way to take away some selfish aspect of a new year’s resolution is to involve a friend or accountability buddy. By sharing a resolution you aren’t only doing it to better your life but you’re there for support and motivation to help someone else better theirs also. The American Psychological Association states that, “having someone with whom to share your struggles and successes makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.” Therefore, combining your resolution with someone else’s makes actually achieving that life goal much more attainable!

Here are some ways to involve your friends in your new year’s resolutions.

  1. Work out together: Weight loss is the most common new year’s resolution so why not gather your other five or more friends who made the same resolution and support each other. Try pooling together a contest and whoever loses the most weight wins the prize (whether it be money or a makeshift gold medal), time each other while you run and see how much you can improve your minute per mile, work as friendly trainers to cheer each other on, lift more weight, add that extra repetition and have fun doing it.
  2. Eat in instead of out: Make dinners together instead of going out to eat to spend less and save more! Plus if you’ve made more than one resolution and want to lose weight, the simple ingredients and home cooked meals would help!
  3. Make a joint “to-do” list: In order to stay organized you need some structure. Make lists with your friends and hold each other accountable for them. Sending them daily reminders to check off items on their to-do list will also help them check off an item from their bucketlist.
  4. Try new things: If your resolution is to enjoy life to the fullest or learn something exciting then bring a friend along for the adventure. Join some community clubs around town like a book club or go sightseeing somewhere you’ve never been. Doing new things with a buddy makes trying those things a lot less scary, less overwhelming and more fun.

Whether you and your friend want to quit smoking or find that special someone, if you combine your life goals you’ll be less motivated to only think about yourself but also your partner in resolution.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? The new year is a time for reflection on the past year and a look forward into the future. It’s a time for change and progression for both yourself and for the world. After all of the failed resolutions, the weight that wasn’t lost, the money that wasn’t saved and the unsuccessful feeling we all share by the end of the first few weeks, it might be time to try a new tradition of resolutions.

Try picking a resolution that not only helps you grow but also helps others. The feeling of helping someone else will keep the resolution going for the entire year. If you only focus on pleasing yourself chances are you’ll give up because there isn’t anyone else there to help motivate you to keep your life goals on track.

Joining a cause, volunteering at a not-for-profit, paying it forward (to a buckaroo) or combining a resolution with a friend so you both succeed are only the beginning stages of fully achieving a resolution; which is probably number one on your bucketlist. Break the tradition and make 2016 a year for selfless resolutions and you might start to see that 8% success rate increase starting with you.


Make a bucket list?