It will soon be that time of year where many of us set ourselves up for failure. Make a resolution or don’t make a resolution; you will regret either. Or so the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard might quip. One estimate suggests that almost half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and yet less than 10 percent successfully follow through. Maybe we forget about them long before our snow boots dry out. Maybe life takes us on a different path. Maybe we stop caring. Maybe we simply fail. It might be tempting to do away with this farce altogether, but before we commit to being noncommittal about the New Year, it’s worth thinking through some of the options.
The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is at least four thousand years old. The ancient Babylonians celebrated their new year—the rebirth of the sun god Marduk—in spring, to coincide with barley-sowing season. Akitu was a twelve-day festival in which the king would promise to fulfill an extensive list of duties. To seal the king’s commitment, the high priest would slap him hard across the face. The slap had to be firm enough to draw tears: proof of the king’s dedication and a reminder to him to be humble. As part of the festival, other people also pledged their allegiance to the king and the gods and promised to repay their debts. Read More