New Year's Resolutions (And The Deeper Meaning Behind Them)

I’ve always loved the start of a new year. New Year’s Eve, as holidays go, is characteristically more about fun and less about family drama, and New Year’s Day is typically a day of relaxed recovery. I’ve even come to enjoy the promise and potential that is so carefully packaged in the “New Year, New You” promotions that now seem standard fare for every category. 

But most of all, I like the start of a new year because it is a time for reflecting on the year that was, and making plans for the year to come. It’s not a new tradition. Two millennia ago, the ancient Romans marked the New Year recognizing Janus – the god of doorways and transitions – who was blessed (or cursed) with two heads, and capable of looking both forward and backward at the same time.

Today, as highlighted by data from our latest barometer, Affluent consumers continue this tradition – fully 81% tell us they set specific goals or resolutions for 2013, a figure consistent with previous years. But what is particularly telling is the nature of those goals. The goals we choose for ourselves are incredibly revealing about who we are. There are many parts of our lives, and ourselves, that we can’t choose. But our goals and ambitions are relatively freely chosen, and as a result, reveal much about who we are, and who we aspire to be. And Affluents’ goals tell us much about them, particularly when we dig a little deeper, beyond sound bites and top-of-mind responses. 

Our data show the most commonly set goals for the New Year revolve around three key themes: health, wealth and family. 

1. Weight loss. 38% of Affluents aspire to lose weight in the coming year, topping the list, as it consistently does on lists of this sort. But when we used open-ended questions, asking respondents to tell us about their ambitions in their own words, we find that “weight loss,” per se, is only part of the story. Certainly, some talk specifically about dropping pounds and getting to the gym more often, but on the whole, Affluents are just as likely to talk about health more broadly. Underlying the commonly cited goal of “weight loss” is, ultimately, a desire for more energy and vitality. Our data have shown that Affluents find today’s pace of life tiring, and they consider 2012 to have been a tiring year in particular. Affluent goals are less about shedding pounds, and more about feeling better – physically and mentally. They aspire to have more energy to deal with the pace of life today, while still having the emotional resources to devote to family, friends, and the “important things in life.”

2. Save more money. 37% of Affluents resolved to save more money, statistically tied with “weight loss” as the most widely cited goal, and consistent with figures from a year ago. But again, digging deeper discerns the subtle trends in the Affluent mindset. Only 24% have resolved to “spend less money,” down significantly from 31% a year ago, one of several signs that Affluent frugality and value-orientation are slowly becoming less intense. Yes, saving is still important, but economic anxiety is receding.

3. More time with family. 29% of Affluents resolved to spend more time with family, coming in third on the list, and again consistent with a year ago. These responses often reflected a broader trend of Affluents focusing more on the personal, the closer-to-home, the more “controllable” elements of life. When asked to talk about her goals for the coming year, one of our Affluent respondents put it this way: “As the macro-environment throughout the world is in turmoil, my goals tend to focus on the micro-environment that is my own little sphere of influence (to try and maintain some semblance of control in my life).”

Marketers trying to become more attuned to the lives and mindsets of Affluents would do well to look more deeply at their aspirations. Marketers seeking to connect with Affluents should look beyond New Year resolution clichés of losing weight, saving more and time with family – instead, they should understand the deeper aspirations for health and energy, their gradually receding economic anxiety, and their focus on family and the more controllable “micro-environment” immediately around them.

Tags: affluent
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