Now that it's been 2017 for a few days, the New Year's resolutions are coming thick and fast, and we're all busily deciding what we're going to do in the next year (finish our novels! Learn French! Commit to visiting our lone annoying aunt at least once a month, even if she keeps commenting on the aforementioned unfinished novel!). But while you have likely made at least one New Year's resolution in your life, odds are low that you know too much about the history of resolutions.
The New Year's resolution is a fairly new tradition, with most historians tracing the concept back to the 17th century — but even in the brief period of time in which making resolutions has been popular, some fairly stupendous acts have resulted, from the unrealistic to the bonkers to the accidentally brilliant.
While the actual power of the resolution depends a lot on individual factors, like willpower and whether or not our sense of virtue and new beginnings lasts into February, it's comforting to know that this isn't exactly a new struggle— Queen Elizabeth I completely understands if your idea about knitting hats for everybody in your family rapidly snowballs into something completely ridiculous. Trust me.
Psst! Check out the "You IRL" stream in the Bustle App for daily tips on how to have an empowering 2017 starting Jan. 1. Right now, tweet @bustle about how you plan to make 2017 the best year yet. Use the hashtag #2017IRL, and your tweet could be featured on our app.
Only Receive Fans As Gifts For The Rest Of Your Life
Queen Elizabeth I, monarch of England, had a huge impact on the development of women's fashion, but one of her biggest influences seems to have come from a New Year's mistake. It was the custom at the time to offer gifts to the Queen every New Year if you were a courtier; and it seems that at some point, the Queen dropped some kind of hint that she'd quite like a new fan.
The response was a bit unprecedented: her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, gave her an amazing one in 1574, set with diamonds, pearls and rubies. Other courtiers didn't want to be outdone, so she received hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans over the rest of her life. They became the only acceptable New Year's gift for her, and she received everything from swan's down ones to ostentatious multi-colored ones, many of which popped up in her portraits. Whoops.
Stop Seeing Plays
Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, wrote on New Year's day, 1661 — and he had some thoroughly weird ideas about what he was going to do in the upcoming year (at least to modern eyes). 1662, he vowed, would mark an end to his "spendthrift" ways; it would also be the year he found a wife for his brother, and hopefully maintained his and his wife's health. But he also made a solemn vow about "abstaining from plays and wine". For us, attending the theater is generally seen as a highbrow pursuit worth aspiring to rather than avoiding; but Pepys's England was only just coming out of a long period where plays were banned altogether by the Puritans as morally suspect. Pepys was clearly hoping to retain his virtue by keeping himself away from frivols of the stage.
Learn To Dislike Children
These weren't New Years resolutions per se, but rather life resolutions written by the satirist Jonathan Swift, who'd go on to write Gulliver's Travels. He penned a famous list of resolutions for his future in 1669, at the age of 32. In the list, he warned his future self not to be "peevish or morose or suspicious," "marry a young woman," or "neglect decency, or cleanliness, for fear of falling into nastiness." In the midst of this understandable — if sarcastic — list was the most notable: "Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly." As he never had any kids at all (at least that we know of), it seems to have worked out.
Become The First Simultaneous President Of The USSR, Great Britain, And Germany
We're not entirely sure of the year the great Cambridge mathematician Godfrey Hardy — one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century — wrote his famous list of resolutions, but it was likely some time in the 1930s. And it didn't exactly aim low. It went as follows: "1) Prove the Riemann Hypothesis; 2) Make 211 not out on the fourth innings of the last Test Match at the Oval; 3) Find an argument for the non-existence of God which would convince the general public; 4) Be the first man on top of Mt Everest; 5) Be proclaimed the first President of the USSR, Great Britain, and Germany, and 6) Murder Mussolini." You can't say he aimed low. (Hardy never did prove the Riemann Hypothesis, but his pupil Ramanujan did)
Be A Courteous & Kind Theatre Critic
A much-derided musical, You'll See Stars, opened on Broadway on December 29, 1942 — and closed three days later. In that time, the celebrated critic Louis Kronenberg had to review it, and protested that it contravened his New Year's resolution, which was to be "kind and courteous," due to its sheer misery. Kronenberg also claimed that the play's poor quality made him absent himself from the second act to "drink poison." That was an exaggeration — though perhaps the Stars cast hoped it wasn't.
Lock Yourself In A Basement
J.M. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but his beginnings as a writer were perhaps a little bit less auspicious. According to to his biography, on January 1, 1970, "shortly before his thirtieth birthday, Coetzee carried out a New Year's resolution by locking himself into the basement of his house at 24 Parker Avenue in Buffalo, New York, wearing boots and a coat, and vowing that he would not emerge until he had written a thousand words." The approach worked, but shouldn't possibly be considered the normal route to Nobel glory.
If you're going to ask a famously nihilistic writer to contribute to your newspaper, you'd better be prepared for what you get. The Times learnt this to their cost (or their delight) in 1984, when they asked the celebrated Samuel Beckett to contribute his own resolutions for the New Year. They received a now-famous telegram:
"resolutions colon zero stop period hopes colon zero stop beckett”
Well, that's what you get.
Check out the "You IRL" stream in the Bustle App every day in January for daily tips on how to have an empowering 2017.