Cheryl is stretching her quadriceps, getting ready to begin her regular workout. It’s mid-December—not, traditionally, the busiest time of year for any fitness center—but right now, she’s thinking about the month ahead of her.
“The gym is nice in January,” she says. “Because then, all the fat people start to come back, and for a little while, you get to be one of the in-shape people by comparison.”
Cheryl laughs at her remark, presumably considering how it might sound, how it could be taken—impolite, perhaps; condescending, maybe—then she adds: “Well, it’s true.”
It would seem the numbers bear out Cheryl’s anecdotal hypothesis. At the New York Sports Club (NYSC) location in Garden City, at least, the average number of daily gym goers will jump from 400 to as many as 900 from December to January.
“We don’t let any of our employees take vacation during the whole month of January,” says Raymond Nobile, the general manager of the Garden City NYSC. “It dwindles down around the second week of March, but through February, it’s the biggest time [of the year] for us in terms of both sales and attendance. You know: New Year’s Resolutions.”
It doesn’t end at the gym, either. Other vendors of physique improvement will also pick up their share of New Year’s crowds. Gift certificates and gifted memberships are certain to bolster business for massage parlors, day spas and tanning salons for the next month, whether because of the New Year—or just because it’s getting cold.
“We are always busy when it gets cold, that’s when we start to build up our client base,” says Lisa Caiazzo, of Rain Spa & Boutique of Syosset. “This time of year you have hot and cold, and people want to take care of their skin more so than they do in the summer time.”
But Caiazzo also recognizes that weight loss is the power player when it comes to New Year’s resolutions.
“I think people are more concerned with their body image, like ‘I want to lose 10 pounds’ or ‘I’m going to join a gym,’” she says. “I don’t know if people necessarily say, ‘I’m going to be very diligent about starting a skin care regiment.’”
But don’t they? Isn’t this the time of year for all our bad habits to be broken, and all new good ones broken in? Indeed, it would seem a cottage industry forms around the cult and culture of New Year’s resolutions—the same way some retail economies are driven by holiday sales, some other industries do their briskest business at the turn of the calendar year, cashing in on the clean-slate mentality. This is, perhaps, no surprise, but it raises other questions, considering that people also resolve to do things other than go to the gym. The Press collected resolutions from an assortment of different people—from a wide array of age, ethnic and demographic groups—in an unofficial survey, and plenty of them refer to more creative enterprises than losing weight—things like “improving my outreach work,” or “finding love,” or “learning more about Japan.”
So then, in theory, shouldn’t there be other places that pack out like this at the start of the year, places related to some of the aspects of self-improvement outside of trimmer muscle tone?
Yes. And, on Long Island at least, outside local gyms, New Year’s crowds can be expected at local churches, psychologists’ and hypnotists’ offices, and synagogue (though that will be after the Jewish New Year).
Representatives from each of these places confirm that they too see an enthusiastic boost during the resolution period of January and February, right when many are bettering themselves with the greatest fervor.
Center Point Church in Bellmore identifies such a pattern. There is, Pastor Henry Fuhrman says, a significant spike in their attendance during the first quarter of the year. He also notes a wave of people looking to volunteer and serve.
“People set New Year’s goals and we do feel some of that, where people tend to over-commit early in the year,” says Fuhrman. This trend does tend to dip down after a few months, says Fuhrman, the same way they do after the initial jump started by the Jewish New Year (better known as Rosh Hashanah, which will begin at sunset on Sept. 28 in 2011) in Syosset’s Congregation Simchat HaLev, says Rabbi Jay Weinstein. And thus the spiritual workout dies down in much the same way as the physical one.
But Pastor Fuhrman sees these first months as an opportunity to make an impact with this set. Center Point Church is now planning out a newsletter to keep in contact with those who slip in and out at the start of the year. The Catholic Church as a whole also makes use of this window of time. During the second week of January they celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, “a week to urge young people to think of priesthood and religious life,” which suggests that they see this as a period when many are more open to pursuing ambitions of the heart. The week is timed with the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, but it’s hard to imagine that the proximity to the New Year is arbitrary.
“As long as I’ve been in this business I’ve always seen a big increase in the first few weeks of January,” says Hypnotist Striker Corbin in Hauppauge, who will be helping people pursue internal ambitions rather directly.
Advanced Wellness of Long Island doesn’t expect a huge jump in their acupuncture program, but does see some extra folks looking to their laser therapy program as a tactic to quit smoking. Others are looking for romance in the New Year.
“It’s a time when a lot of people who break up are out looking for new love,” adds relationship psychologist Fran Praver, whose boost of patients in Locust Valley begins just before the New Year.
And speaking of breaking up, while many are looking for that special someone in the New Year, many are also looking to lose that special someone.
“At this time of the year, our expectations sometimes end in disappointment,” says East Meadow matrimonial attorney Russell Marnell. “A couple that is struggling to maintain a marriage may often be prompted to consider divorce as part of one or both of the partners’ self-evaluation that comes with the New Year.”
It’s interesting to consider the ways the population shifts around at the start of the year because in a sense this is a picture of people as they would like themselves to be. January could be seen as a testing ground for the Ideal World, a place that’s a little fuzzy in some of our minds. For better or worse, this may be a place where people head to the church and the alternative wellness center when they finish working out.
Those Left Out
It’s equally interesting to note what this ideal world does not include. One might expect people bent on improvement to jump into the community service circuit as well, but the Long Island Volunteer Center, a network that connects volunteer organizations across Nassau and Suffolk, does not note any January uptick, and neither do North Shore-LIJ Health System Volunteer Services, the Hauppauge Volunteer Fire Department or the Mineola Fire Department.
“January is cold,” Mineola Fire Chief Robert Connolly says wryly. “Getting people to come down to the fire department…people may have good intentions, but it’s not here until it’s warm out.”
But perhaps the kind of commitment required for a fire department or a hospital is less appealing to the New Year’s resolution style. These kinds of activities are less immediately gratifying than a doctor’s visit or an hour on a treadmill.
Reolutions like going to church or a hypnotist allows one’s interest to grow or wane over the course of the year.
They’re also places no one is relying on you to keep your resolution. The initial commitment to volunteer staff at a hospital or firehouse is an immediate decision to be reliable for the lives of others. Dipping out from a situation like that, from disinterest or lack of will, might be a less ignorable failure than a wasted gym or church membership. Our collection of resolutions suggests that the kind of ambitions one formulates before New Year’s tend to focus on measurable, self-focused aspects of improvement (improve grades, spend less, read something enlightening every day, etc.). After all the charity of the holidays (the busiest time for Long Island Volunteer Center), it may just feel like a good time to think of yourself.
Of course, these trends only reflect on a specific portion of the population—namely those that make resolutions. In the religious sector, Rabbi Weinstein points out that more uniformly devout Jewish cultures don’t have such a New Year’s push because the commitment there remains year round. The Church of Scientology of Long Island also has not noticed any bump after the New Year, a church that also perhaps creates a tighter, less casual culture of interaction than a Catholic or Protestant church or a reform Synagogue.
And as expected, many of those polled for resolutions said they don’t make them because “they don’t work,” or because they’re for people who can’t just better themselves year-round. Many avoid them because they always break them and leave it at that, but one man we asked for a resolution specified this and said, “I’ve broken them because they cover things that aren’t important.” It’s a simple but interesting point of view, particularly when put in reference to attempts to quit smoking, or attend church every week, or read more books and graduate from college.