LONG before anyone knew what a gym membership, a low carb diet or a night class was, American author Mark Twain had the measure of our attitude to New Year resolutions.
Twain said: “New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions.”
More than 150 years later and we’re still contemplating spectacular lifestyle changes in the depths of winter, when it’s much more tempting to scoff a high calorie dinner while sitting wrapped in a blanket on the sofa in front of the television.
According to psychologists, the top three resolutions for 2013 are losing weight, getting more organised and saving money.
Other popular pledges include quitting smoking, spend more time with family and enjoying life more.
Perhaps surprisingly, also making the top 10 resolutions, at a time when many become self-obsessed, is doing more to help others.
Finding a new love interest is claimed to be another of the main goals for many people in the New Year.
The ever dismissive Twain observed: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath.”
On the streets of Belfast yesterday there was little evidence that the good folk of Northern Ireland, or even further afield, were concerned with making life any harder than it is already.
Emma Elliott from Ballymoney doesn’t believe in New Year resolutions and feels people shouldn’t wait until January if they need to stop doing something.
“I think New Year resolutions are a bit stupid to be honest,” she said. “If someone has a bad habit they need to break then why wait until the following week, next month or the New Year? You can make changes at any time so I don’t believe in the New Year thing.”
Caitlin Farrell, also from Ballymoney, agrees.
“I think New Year resolutions are stupid too. If you wanted to go on a diet or something then there’s no need to wait for a particular date. January 1 is just a day like any other.”
Brenda McKay from Co Down hasn’t made any resolutions either and doesn’t see the point.
She said: “I really don’t see why people get a date in their head when they decide they’re going to change something they don’t like.
“Any time is a good time to better yourself if that’s what you decide you need to do. I know a lot of people who do but I just find it strange that they will wait until January 1.”
Among the celebrities making resolutions, former X Factor judge and Destiny’s Child star Kelly Rowland has said for 2013 she aims to spend as much time as possible with her family and start her own cosmetics line.
One tongue-in-cheek resolution came from comedian Ricky Gervais who posted on Twitter: “My New Year’s resolution was to be even more brilliant but it’s proving impossible.”
With not much else to trouble her, reality TV star Kim Kardashian has suddenly become concerned with the picture accompanying her Twitter account. “Decided to change my background to nothing. I wanna be more simple in 2013,” she said.
The lead singer with rock band Maroon 5, Adam Levine, took to Twitter to make a much bolder statement about his plans for the New Year. His potential resolutions include: “Take more hikes. Start smoking. Communicate. Enjoy. Share. Make friends with a lion.”
Back in Belfast, most people’s goals were more in keeping with accepted practice.
Elizabeth Prior from the Four Winds area of Belfast said she is going to be extra careful with the cash in 2013 and would advise more people to do the same.
She said: “I’m on my own now and manage quite well but you can never be too careful with money, particularly in the current climate.
“It seems to be getting harder for people to manage every year so, even if they don’t think they have a lot of bad habits to give up, people can still spend their money more wisely.”
Dee Smyth from Downpatrick believes having a particular date in mind as a focus for improvement can help some people lead better lives. “I don’t smoke, drink or eat rubbish, and I go to the gym four times a week, but you can always find ways to do things better,” she said.
“My New Year resolution this time was making a decision to see a lot more of my family in 2013. I think that’s an important one that a lot of people probably wouldn’t think about but I’m definitely going to stick to that one.”
Christopher McKim from Minnesota in the US said the tradition of making resolutions was as big in the States as the UK but he doesn’t usually make any himself.
“It’s just another day to me. I’m one of those who would do whatever had to be done whenever it needed doing. You can change things anytime,” he said.
“If pushed to make one, maybe I would cut back on the beer a bit but that’s not easy when you’re in Belfast.”