New Year celebrations

The hidden toxicity of the New Year

As 2023 draws to a close, there are mixed emotions for many – whether that is from looking back on an intense year, the daunting prospect of an unpredictable year to come, or a mix of the two, the expectation at a fresh start tends to be high. To top it all off, all of our personal feelings about the new year, and the anticipation that often accompanies it, are brought to our attention by social media.

There is undoubtedly a pressure to ‘conform’ across social media all year round, but this seems to be taken to the extreme when it comes to the new year. Before the clock even strikes midnight, online discourse floods our explore pages and there is an expectation to treat New Year’s Eve as a spectacular occasion for partying, celebrating and socialising. However, the pressure to kick off the new year with viral fitness crazes such as the ‘75 hard’ is rather ironic – after a night of partying, starting a health kick is understandably difficult.

However, don’t we have all year to do this? As we enter 2024, it is certainly time to be more honest about what we really want to get out of the new year and why this doesn’t need to come with glitter and balloons. A quiet night in will be the perfect reset for many – a chance to wind down, reflect and importantly, not allowing the inevitable passing of time from one year to occupy too much space in your mind. After all, New Year’s Eve means something different to everybody on the most personal of levels, so the way the occasion is marked should differ to find valuable meaning in moving forwards while reflecting on the past.

Even before the clock strikes midnight, there is a lot to unpack. However, the toxicity of social media is certainly not the only perpetrator here. Culture that predates the social media era has shaped what we view as the purpose of the new year, and the tradition of new year’s resolutions is central to this phenomenon. New year’s resolutions are nothing new – the Babylonians first set this trend of making promises to the gods that they would fulfil in the hopes of a positive year to come. Since then, the annual tradition has permeated cultures and, while originating as a religious act of devotion, has emerged more recently as a personal checklist of overly ambitious self-improvement tasks.

One must understand one key difference between the resolutions of Babylonia and those of our modern world to question their effectiveness. Nowadays, we lack the accountability that the Babylonians were tied to – opening your notes app to tell your future self to eat healthily or workout twice a day is unmotivating, repetitive and impersonal. New year’s resolutions become an annual ‘tradition’ that we hyper-fixate on to then fade out when it suits – perhaps quiet reflection may be more beneficial than we may initially believe. 

To be clear, this is certainly not an advocation of holding humanity to divine accountability for new year’s resolutions, but instead, an example of why it would be beneficial to alter the way we view self-improvement. The entire ritual that surrounds the new year takes away from its supposed sense of a ‘fresh start’ – changes with any lasting positive impact will not be able to be ticked off a list, nor will they drastically change the way we live. Every year, there is a sense of hope that with a certain amount of inner strength and willpower, we will be able to stick to absurd resolutions, yet every year, this is tried and failed by most.

By committing to tiny alterations in our day-to-day life, change will come more naturally and will be more sustainable than making impossible pledges that lead to guilt. Whether this be committing to a daily walk rather than the rigid gym routines we see all over TikTok or using your phone for thirty minutes less per day rather than cutting it out, being realistic with ourselves and being honest about what we want to get out of a fresh start may be the solution. Rather than viewing every new year as an insular and isolated event, letting go of the pressure that social media tries to impose and taking it in at your own pace and in your own style may be your personal branding for 2024.