What do New Year's resolutions say about Americans' concerns and values? Associate Professor Alexander Chernev investigates
12/20/2011 - ’Tis the season — for New Year’s resolutions, that is.
Those first-of-the-year proclamations reveal insights into where Americans are, where they want to be, and ultimately, what will make them happy, Associate Professor of Marketing Alexander Chernev
“Studying these resolutions allows us to understand trends in peoples’ behaviors and decision making, as well as where their primary concerns lie,” says Chernev, who recently produced one of the first studies to track the annual pledges.
Chernev’s research is based on a survey of nearly 900 Americans who were asked to identify their top three New Year’s resolutions for 2011.
As many would predict, “losing weight” topped the list. Twenty-eight percent of the respondents identified a slimmer figure as their top New Year’s resolution, and as many as 42 percent indicated weight loss as one of their top three New Year’s goals. And yet, when respondents were asked to identify the resolution they were not able to achieve the previous year, weight loss also topped the list.
“Losing weight is the standing resolution people seem unable to achieve,” said Chernev, author of the 2011 book The Dieter’s Paradox
, which examines the mind’s role in dieting behavior.
“When making our resolutions, we think ‘big picture’ and focus on the long-term,” Chernev explains. “Then life takes over. When given the choice between the immediate gratification of indulging now and the future gratification of losing weight, people tend to be myopic and favor the short term.”
After losing weight, the intent to exercise more (12 percent), sharpen professional accomplishments (12 percent), and be a better person (11 percent) were the top resolutions cited by respondents.
“Being a better person is something you can control and something that is achievable,” Chernev said, adding that challenging economic times generally spark a renewed focus on the self and interpersonal relationships.
Speaking of the economy, only 8 percent of respondents cited saving money as one of their top resolutions. Given the current state of the economy, this finding may come as a surprise. But Chernev says those numbers aren’t proof that Americans don’t care about finances.
“Just because something is not a New Year’s resolution doesn’t mean it’s not important,” he points out. “Resolutions are about where you are and where you want to be. Some people may already feel satisfied with their achievements in a particular area and prefer to focus on other areas where change is more desirable.”
Chernev, who has made a career of exploring consumer behavior, plans to continue his research and build a comprehensive database that tracks resolution-making over multiple years.
“This will help us see what’s becoming more or less important in peoples’ lives and where people feel they’re deficient,” he said. “Perhaps we’ll call it the ‘Gaps in Happiness Index.’”