I've never been a fan of New Year's Resolutions.

And according to a survey I commissioned*, I'm not alone. Only 45% of Americans say they set them.

Why? New Year's Resolutions just don't work. According to the study, only 8% of Americans say they always achieve their New Year's resolutions. The way it seems to work now, setting a New Year's Resolution is a recipe for defeat. It has become one of the nation's most masochistic traditions.

At some point, people just decide to stop hurting themselves and they call the whole thing off.

According to the study, New Year's resolution usage in America falls rapidly with age. 57% of those aged 18-24 set New Year's resolutions, compared with only 32% of those over age 54 who set them. It appears that as we get older, we get wiser and identify things that don't work.

Resolutions Do Not Bring Happiness

The basic idea of an end-of-the year evaluation is a good one. It is helpful to reflect in order to improve. But if the goal is happiness, resolutions fail miserably. They just end up causing increased levels of bitterness, defeat, and unhappiness.

According to my study:

  • 45% of Americans usually set New Year's Resolutions; 17% infrequently set resolutions; 38% absolutely never set resolutions.
  • Only 8% of people are always successful in achieving their resolutions. 19% achieve their resolutions every other year.  49% have infrequent success.  24% (one in four people) NEVER succeed and have failed on every resolution every year. That means that 3 out of 4 people almost never succeed.
  • It appears that the younger you are, the more likely you are to achieve your resolutions
    • 39% of those in their twenties achieve their resolutions every year or every other year
    • Less than 15% of those over 50 achieve their resolutions every year or every other year
  • The less happy you are, the more likely you are to set New Year's Resolutions.  This is especially true for those who set money-related resolutions: 41% are not happy, 34% are moderately happy, and 25% are happy.
  • And here's the punchline - There is no correlation between happiness and resolution setting/success.  People who achieve their resolutions every year are NO happier than those who do not set resolutions or who are unsuccessful in achieving them.

Therefore, rather than setting goals designed to correct supposed faults or flaws, set goals that are chosen to bring joy and success in the New Year.

Set Themes, Not Resolutions

So, if you absolutely must set New Year's Resolutions, try this advice:

1. Reflect on the previous year. Take time to reflect on what you've accomplished - the ups and the downs. Don't focus on whether you failed or succeeded. Instead, ask yourself, "Why? Why did I succeed? Why did I fail?"

2. Choose a broad theme rather than specific a measurable goal. Instead of resolutions, choose one or two words to describe your next year. It serves as a theme for the year rather than a specific goal. Choose a theme that gets your juices flowing, has you excited, and moves you into action. Can't think of a theme? How about passion, peace, love, friendship, travel, or self-expression? Or maybe new horizons, adventure, or mind expansion might be a good start.

3. Remind yourself of your theme. Write your theme on a Post-It Note and stick it on your computer screen. Write it on your bathroom mirror. Put it anywhere as a quick reminder to what you are about at this moment in time. Resolutions are things to do. Themes are a way to be.

4. Remain open to new possibilities and to changes in direction at any point in the future. Themes are not set in stone. If the theme you chose is not working, feel free to change it. Themes are designed to help you experience life more fully. You should never feel constrained or limited.

When you set themes for the new year, you can never fail. It is simply a game to play that gets you in action.

What are your themes for 2019?

* Survey of 1012 Americans conducted in 2005 by Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, NJ. The survey has a margin of error of 3%