Flat White

Why celebrating the New Year is good for your soul

31 December 2019

11:57 AM

31 December 2019

11:57 AM

The meaning of most holidays is clear: Valentine’s Day celebrates romance; Thanksgiving, productivity; Anzac Day the soldiers who protect us and those who have fought in the past; Christmas, goodwill toward others. The meaning of New Year’s Day—the world’s most celebrated holiday—is not so clear. On this day, many people remember last year’s achievements and failures and look forward to the promise of a new year, of a new beginning. But this celebration and reflection is the result of more than an accident of the calendar. New Year’s has a deeper significance. What is it?

On New Year’s Day, when the singing, fireworks and champagne toasts are over, many of us become more serious about life. We take stock and plan new courses of action to improve our lives. This is best seen in one of the most popular customs and the key to the meaning of New Year’s: making resolutions.

Around the world each year, the number of people making New Year’s resolutions skyrockets into the hundreds of millions. From Sydney to Los Angeles to London to Hong Kong, there is a fascinating similarity in the resolutions that people make. Consider these two very common resolutions: people vowing to be more attractive by losing weight and to be healthier by exercising more. Those making these resolutions desire to become better people.

New Year’s Day is the most active-minded holiday, because it is the day where people evaluate their lives and plan and resolve to take action. One dramatic example of taking New Year’s seriously is the old European custom of: “What one does on this day one will do for the rest of the year.” What unites this custom and the more common practice of making resolutions is that on the first day of the year people take their values more seriously.

Values are not only physical; they can also be psychological. Many New Year’s resolutions reveal that people also want to better themselves psychologically. For example, look at your own resolutions over the years. Haven’t they included such vows as to be more patient with my children, improve my self-esteem, be more emotionally open with my husband? Such resolutions express the moral ambitiousness of a person wanting to improve his or her self and life.

What then is the philosophic meaning of New Year’s resolutions? Every resolution you make implies that you are in control of your self, that you are not a victim fated by circumstance, controlled by stars, or owned by luck, but that you are an individual who can make choices to change your life. You can choose to learn statistics, ask for that promotion, fight your shyness, search for that marriage partner. Your life is in your hands.

But what is the purpose of making such goals and resolutions? Why bother?

Making New Year’s resolutions (and doing so even after failing last year’s) expresses that you want to be happy. On New Year’s Day many people accept, often more implicitly than explicitly, that happiness comes from the achievement of values. That is why you resolve to be healthier, more ambitious, more confident. You want to enjoy that sense of purpose, accomplishment and pleasure that one feels when achieving values. It is happiness that is the motor and purpose of one’s life. More than any other day, it is New Year’s Day that makes the attainment of happiness feel more real and possible. This is the meaning of New Year’s Day and why it is so psychologically important and significant to so many people around the world.

If people applied the value-achievement meaning of New Year’s Day explicitly and consistently 365 days each year, they would be happier.

So, every day, fill your champagne glass of life to the brim with values—and drink deeply to your life and the joy that it can and should be.

Happy New Year. Happy Life.

Former Los Angeles producer/showrunner Scott McConnell is a Melbourne-based story developer and script consultant. You can read more of his work here.

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