New Year, New You? New Year Resolutions from the Mass Observation Archive.

18 January 2019

Cultural Studies | History

New year resolutions. You either decide to have them or you don’t. Nowadays it feels like there’s no escaping the obligation to quash bad habits and nurture new behaviours in their place. For others, it’s less of a burden and more of an opportunity to achieve an unfulfilled wish.

It’s the third week of 2019 (yes, already!) and you’ve made great progress on those new year goals. Or, like me, you’re still eating the leftover chocolate from Christmas you promised not to touch, your gym clothes have forgotten what light looks like, and you’ve decided that Dry-January isn’t going to help curb your love of prosecco through the other eleven months of the year anyway.

We’re not alone, however, as a 1949 report about New Year resolutions from our Mass Observation Online archive explores. Mass Observation’s National Panel were asked if they had set any resolutions for the year ahead and, if so, what. A year later, they were reminded of these resolutions and were asked to detail how well they managed to stick to them.

The types of resolutions people made in the late 1940s weren’t too dissimilar to common resolutions people still make today: to give up smoking, to drink less, to be tidier and more organised, to save money. Another aspect that hasn’t changed much are the amusing stories of spectacular resolution fails. Here are a few giggle-worthy mishaps:

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS, November 1949, © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS, November 1949, © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS, November 1949, © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Failing resolutions wasn’t a problem for those who insisted they do not make any resolutions. As well as those who never bothered making resolutions because they always broke them, there were those who felt setting yourself a goal on New Year’s Eve was pointless if not reviewed and renewed throughout the year. Some argued that waiting until New Year’s Eve to make life changes demonstrated a lack of willpower; if something dissatisfies us, we should act immediately:

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS, November 1949, © Mass Observation Archive. University of Sussex Special Collections. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Perhaps there is some reassuring advice to be had here from those who don’t set resolutions to those of us who do but have already fumbled. Although the beginning of a new year offers the perfect opportunity to aspire to achieve a goal, this goal can grow, it can change, and it can begin any day of the year. If we’ve slipped up, we can simply get back on our feet and start again.

 

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About the Author

Santino Prinzi

Santino Prinzi

I joined Adam Matthew as a Copyright and Permissions Assistant in October 2018. My academic background lies in English literature and creative writing, with specialisms in Modernism, contemporary literature, digital culture, flash fiction, and the prose poem.

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