It is much like climbing a mountain—fighting against the slopes, plowing through torrents of wind, and trudging along trails of rocks. The entire journey seems dry, save for the drops of sweat glistening in the rubble. Sooner or later, the mountain crags coil around your limbs, clouds of dust gather in your lungs, and the atmosphere thins to gossamer. This is what the entire journey seems like, and there is nothing more satisfying than reaching the summit, the pinnacle, the end of a 365- or 366-day climb, a new year. It may seem nearly impossible, but try to breathe—you endured it.
Politics, revisionism, war, death, and Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve performance—from start to finish, from one aspect to the next, the just concluded Year-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named was a turbulent one. Some would like to believe Mercury was in retrograde the entire year (causing all the spillage and mess), some in the science department would claim that the entire 366 days were one long chain reaction involving Murphy’s Law, and the majority would simply insist that the Year-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named was, well, a cursed and lost one.
However, there is no point in sulking in those 366 days, no matter how short the distance between then and now may be. While on the summit, gaze at the sun creeping into its blanket of waves, and try to see the edges where its rays clutch—the ranges of mountains that will soon loom above us. Realize that the trudge does not stop at the peak, and that there are more dangerous and difficult slopes you have to climb. It is at this point where we entertain the age-old question: what now?
The trip down one mountain and the climb towards another is usually paved with resolutions. Starting a diet, becoming more self-aware, removing life’s toxicities—these are a select few of the resolutions which grazed Facebook and Twitter feeds days before the new year sprouted into existence.
It is a comforting thought to see that even after a drastic year, people’s motivations to change, to improve, and to step forward are still breathing and alive and well. Although we may have experienced a series of crash-and-burns along the route previously travelled, the advent of a new year manages to fix our vehicle as we emerge from a long tunnel in the road. This is the magic of New Year’s Eve, and while the yearning for new beginnings may be accredited to the kaleidoscope of ornaments around the house, the midnight trip along a bustling street, or glasses of wine with family around the Media Noche table, much of the desire to set new year’s resolutions are formed within ourselves.
According to a 2013 study by University of Pennsylvania researchers Dai, Milkman, and Riis, the “fresh start effect” is a phenomenon which explains the heightened commitment people feel in achieving a set of goals when met with an opportunity from which they can start anew. These opportunities are referred to as “salient temporal landmarks,” and they can be pinned in special occasions such as a birthday; a holiday; a change of season; the onset of a new week, month, or semester; and especially the coming of a new year. The researchers believe that these landmarks allow people to “demarcate the passage of time, creating many new mental accounting periods each year”—much like dividing a slab of wood into compartments to furnish a cabinet. Whichever experiences are bad, people cram to a compartment labelled “The Past,” and are locked away forever. The cleanliness of empty compartments labelled “The Future” motivate people to better themselves and change their behavior.
It cannot be denied, however, that the magic of New Year’s Eve has slowly waned through the years. Although speckles of it still remain, an “aura of realism” has ultimately shrouded the aspirational vibes of a new year. Resolutions are of no worth anymore; after all, what happened to the diet promised in 2012, or the “no more procrastinating” rule supposedly established in 2014?
Julia Beck, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, attributes the failure of achieving resolutions to their immense difficulty, nebulosity, and ambiguity. A resolution to “be healthier” entails more factors than what we already know, to “read more” is never-ending, and to “live life to the fullest” is too vague (as Beck asks, “Couldn’t life always be fuller?”). She also adds that the beauty of a fresh start only lies in its anticipation. When it finally arrives, the feeling diminishes and the party stops. Once the transition is over, we close the curtains and go to bed.
Despite these, Beck still believes that resolutions are worthy to be made. According to her, resolutions give people the chance to recognize their imperfections and their desires out of life. That is a valuable thing, regardless if efforts are met with success or failure.
We have conquered the previous mountain, and another looms above us. While we are in transition, whether you have resolutions set, always remember: never give up, never fear. You’ve reached 2016’s summit, and you can do it all over again.