My attitude toward New Year's and New Year's resolutions has varied through the years. One year, a long time ago, I observed that December 31st and January 1st were pretty much the same days. The economy was the same, politics were the same, and the season (and often the weather) was pretty much the same. I was also the same: I looked the same, usually weighed the same (though typically more than a month earlier), and generally felt about the same.
That year, in fact, I was quietly reading H.G. Wells' The Outline of History when the clock on my VCR switched from 11:59pm to 12:00am. It was another minute, a 59 changing back to a zero, a 1 changing to a 2. Sure, other parts of our date/time structure were rolling over as well–December to January, 1991 (as it was) to 1992. But apart from that little change on the VCR, nothing that I could see or feel or sense in any other way had changed.
This was even true when the year change from 1999 to 2000, a millennial event that was feared to trigger widespread failure of many critical computer systems. And yet again, the moment of rollover was a non-event, even though we rolled over a year, a decade, a century, and a millennia all at once. Indeed, the problems of the world that were there before were still there after. (As a programmer, by the way, I'm fully aware of the kinds of ridiculous shortcuts that programmers are prone to take. I had no doubt that the Y2K bug was a real concern and that many systems needed to be fixed. But I also figured that the most critical ones would have obviously been fixed first, or supported by newer, redundant systems if there was uncertainty. We didn't see any catastrophic failures, and though I imagine that various problems did occur, none of them were sufficiently significant to surface to public awareness.)
In any case, such non-events remind us how arbitrary our calendars really are. Any point in our planet's journey around the sun can be the first day of the "year," as we see in other cultures. That same year, in fact, I had a Seattle Mariners Baseball Team calendar that ran April to March, April being the new year in Baseball Reality.
To my mind, this means that there's no logical reason to wait for a new year, essentially a random division in time, to change something about myself that's worth changing–there is real truth in the saying, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." If some life change is a good thing to do, do it now! When you can see every day as a new beginning, that energy of newness can be harnessed and directed toward immediate personal transformation.
With this in mind, for a time, I considered the practice of making New Year's resolutions rather pointless, or perhaps an unspoken form of group therapy. It seemed like a purification ceremony after the typical orgy of the holiday season where most of us spend too much, eat too much, and collectively postpone whatever Day of Reckoning will inevitably come.
And yet there is something more happening under the covers that has since changed my feelings on the matter. I don't know if it's ever been studied, but I would wager real money that people, in general, literally find it easier to set about establishing healthier habits or making resolutions on or shortly after our New Year's Day than at other times the year, and especially more than at times it would go completely against the cultural norm (such as the days closest to Christmas). And I think if you asked people, they'd say there's just "something in the air" that made them feel supported in their resolutions.
That something is likely what scientist Rupert Sheldrake in The Rebirth of Nature calls "morphic resonance," a way of saying that mass consciousness has a very real and tangible influence even if we don't have a way to objectively measure it. One study (I don't know if it was Sheldrake's or not), showed that people found it easier to solve the New York Times crossword puzzle the day after it was published than on the first day of publication, presumably because it had already been solved by thousands of people on day one. The solution, in other words, had become a stronger part of the collective consciousness. Those who then later attuned themselves to that consciousness (by working the puzzle), found the solution more readily accessible.
I've experienced a similar phenomenon around a particular choral piece of the Christ Lives! oratorio by J. Donald Walters (aka Swami Kriyananda), performances of which (in whole and part) I've been able to participate in on many occasions. When the oratorio was first composed in 1985, there were eleven choral pieces; a twelfth was added in 1996 only a few days before a major performance in Palo Alto, California. For some years after that, though there were always talented singers to work with, that twelfth piece, Sing Out with Joy, always seemed to be more difficult to perform than the others. I would say that it's only been in the last couple of years that the song has finally found its stride, as if the song really needed to be performed in public a certain number of times before it "got comfortable" with itself, or we as musicians had formed had finally given it enough cumulative energy. (In fact, major performances of Sing Out with Joy were rare in its first decade, in contrast to the original oratorio that was performed quite frequently in its early years.)
Thus while I still completely believe that any of us can start fresh on any day we choose at any time we choose, joining the in fun of making New Year's resolutions–especially if you sincerely mean to make a change in yourself–gives your resolve an added boost, like catching a wave at just the right moment. Sure, you can always swim to shore without that wave, but only a fool would refuse to take advantage of such a wave by calling it irrelevant or arbitrary.
In the end, and despite the fact that many New Year's resolutions don't last more than a week, let alone a month or the entire year, having such a regular collectively-focused time is wonderfully valuable. Support for life-transforming decisions can be found at any time of the year within smaller groups of people, of course (as in focused group retreats), but having a time when the supportive thoughts of millions of people are "in the air" is truly an opportunity to celebrate.