New Year's Resolutions: An Anthropologist's View

Anthropologist Alivia Brown is here to tell us about New Year's Resolutions from the viewpoint of an anthropologist
A short word from our resident Anthropologist (video)

New Years is right around the corner which for many people means it is time to make some New Year’s Resolutions! All around the world at the start of the New Year, people make goals to change or improve different parts of their lives. Some common New Year's Resolutions include learning a new language, making healthier eating choices, and exercising more regularly. 

If it’s supposed to be a year-long goal, why have I forgotten about my resolutions by July?

Resolutions are hard to keep for people all around the world. Today, we are not only going to explore how resolutions vary around the world, but also discuss how to stick with your resolution and learn that language you have always wanted to learn! 

First, let’s go back to the beginning and take a look at how New Year’s Resolutions began. The first ever recorded New Year’s Resolutions date all the way back to the Babylonians 4,000 years ago! The Babylonians celebrated the New Year in March which was when they planted their crops. During this time, they held religious ceremonies and celebrated their Gods. In fact, the Babylonians would make religious promises to their Gods and were expected to keep these promises to stay in the Gods’ favor. Clearly, New Year’s Resolutions have been around for a long time, so why haven’t we learned by now how to keep them?

You’d think that after 4,000 years we would have it down, but unfortunately, this is not the case. In the United States, 41% of Americans report making a New Year’s Resolution but only 9% report maintaining that goal for the entire year. Resolutions are often challenging to maintain because people are not specific enough with their goals; additionally, people do not tend to plan ahead for their resolutions as much as necessary—but, more on this later. 

While many people consider New Year's Resolutions to be an American or Western tradition, they actually take place around the world—they just might look a little different. 

For example, in Colombia, at the start of the New Year, people make “deseos” which translates to “wishes.” When the clock strikes twelve, many people make twelve wishes for the following year and eat twelve grapes. This tradition originated in Spain but it is said the Colombian people believe each grape will bring you good luck for every month of the following year. 

New Years is also a major celebration in China but rather than taking place on January 1st, it lasts for two weeks beginning on January 21st. Instead of setting “resolutions,” people in China make choices which “ensure luck and prosperity.” 

In Russia, New Years is a huge deal and some people consider it to be Russia's most important holiday. Similar to the Colombians, many Russians make wishes at the start of the New Year. People write down their wishes on a piece of paper, burn them, and put the ashes of their wish in a glass of champagne and drink it! 

Celebrating the New Year takes place all around the world, and many countries even have their own versions of New Year’s Resolutions. 

In addition to many countries having their own unique version of New Year’s Resolutions, a project from Google shows that the content of people’s resolutions may vary as well. In 2012, Google launched a project called “Google Zeitgeist Resolutions” which asked people from all around the world what their resolutions were. These resolutions were charted onto a global map to create a visual representation of people’s New Year’s Resolutions. 

The resolutions were organized into seven categories: love, health, career, finance, family, education, and other. This map demonstrated how people all around the world were looking to make some kind of change to their personal life. From a purely observational standpoint, health resolutions were more common in the US, education resolutions were more prominent in Russia, and resolutions related to love were more common in Australia and Japan. It is important to note that this project was in no way a scientific study but rather an observational project looking to put cross cultural resolutions on display. 

Clearly, New Year's Resolutions are common all around the world and many people struggle to keep up with them. So, what are some good strategies to actually keep our New Year’s Resolutions this year? One of the biggest mistakes people make each year is setting resolutions that are too vague. Rather than setting a resolution to “learn a new language,” resolve to “practice Italian for 15 minutes each day.” Creating specific goals that you can keep up with every day is one of the best ways to maintain your New Year’s Resolutions all year long. 

Another great way to keep up with your New Year’s Resolution is to keep track of your progress. If you make a daily, weekly, or monthly checklist and cross off your accomplishments as you go, it can be much easier to complete your resolution. By tracking your progress, you can gain a clear picture of what you have completed so far as well as what still lies ahead. 

And finally, tell others about your resolutions! By talking about your New Year’s Resolutions with the people in your life, you create a natural support system of people. Your friends may ask you how your resolutions are going which, for many people, helps to maintain motivation. 

Every year, people all around the world set New Year's Resolutions. From making wishes in Colombia to ensuring luck in China, it is clear that regardless of where you live, people hope to experience improvements in their lives at the beginning of the New Year. Making personal changes and setting goals for the New Year have been a part of human cultures for thousands of years. This year, take a step back and reflect on what you would like to change or improve upon. Whether that is learning a new language, studying a little bit each day, or something else, remember to create specific, achievable goals, to track your progress, and to tell others about your New Year’s Resolutions. If you do these things, maybe you will still be thinking about those yearly goals this time next year! 


  1. The History of New Year’s Resolutions (2020) 
  2. Studies Show 91% of Us Won’t Achieve Our New Year’s Resolutions (2022) 
  3. A Psychotherapist Says There Are 3 Common Reasons So Many People’s New Year’s Resolutions End in Failure (2021) 
  4. 5 Reasons Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Stick According to a Psychotherapist (2021) 
  5. 11 Most Interesting Columbia New Year’s Traditions (2022) 
  6. How People From Around the World Make Resolutions (2021) 
  7. Google Zeitgeist Resolutions (2012)
  8. New Year’s Resolutions for Students - Study Tips - Good Habits (2018) 
  9. 10 Tips to Help Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions