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New Year's Eve
Why does New Year’s Eve often feel like a let-down?

Like many people at the end of the year, you’re probably feeling a little flustered by the thought that you haven’t achieved everything on your New Year’s resolution list. Somehow the year has flown by and you’re left wondering what you’ve actually accomplished.

In spite of this, you make big plans to ring in the next 365 days and wave goodbye to the year that was. Maybe you’ll go to a house party with friends, or attend a big, organised function that is promised to be the best New Year’s Eve celebration in the city. Either way, you’re sure that whatever you do, it’s going to be spectacular.

So why is it that once the clock strikes midnight and the party’s over, you feel like the whole celebration was a bit of a let-down? We spoke to happiness expert and psychologist Dr Melissa Weinberg from Deakin University’s School of Psychology, to get to the bottom of this annual dilemma.

Why is there so much hype around New Year’s Eve celebrations?

Remember when you were a kid and your mum and dad let you stay up late because it was New Year’s Eve? It was the one night of the year that you were allowed to ignore your regular bedtime and celebrate with the grown-ups. But what does it mean now that you’re old enough to dictate your own bedtime?

For many, the marking of the New Year means the turning of a new leaf and an opportunity for change. As Dr Weinberg explains, ‘New Year’s Eve represents the closing of a chapter and the beginning of a new one. It is a time to reflect on the year that has passed, achievements to date, and sets a marker for comparison of how our life has changed over the past 12 months.

‘At the same time, it’s an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start anew with the turn of the year, which is why many adopt a New Year’s resolution to mark a fresh start.’

But as the years go by, the excitement and anticipation you felt when you were younger fades, and for many, New Year’s Eve celebrations just begin to feel like any other night.

'There’s often a big build up to New Year’s Eve (particularly after Christmas) and then at five minutes past midnight it’s all back to usual.'

Dr Melissa Weinberg,
Deakin University

How our expectations change with age  

It may just be that with age comes wisdom, but coming to terms with the reality of how the night will end is also part of the process of growing older.

As Dr Weinberg explains: ‘In the same way that birthdays are more exciting when you’re younger and the hype fades with age, New Year’s Eve seems like a bigger deal than it is when we’re small because they stand out more as annual cause for celebration.’

Despite this, a big red circle remains marked around 31 December in our social calendars every year with expectations still set high. We may feel the excitement less as we get older, but perhaps we are hopeful that things will be different the next time round.

Why you can never seem to meet your expectations

Dr Weinberg thinks that the reason for this feeling of disappointment is down to the matter of anticipation versus reality.

‘Quite simply we’re not very good at predicting what will make us happy. Because we associate New Year’s Eve with celebrations, parties and fireworks, if it turns out to be a night just like all others, our experience doesn’t match our expectations and we feel let down,’ she says.

Dr Weinberg also explains how the excitement is often in the anticipation of the event rather than the actual celebration. ‘There’s often a big build up to New Year’s Eve (particularly after Christmas) and then at five minutes past midnight it’s all back to usual.’

How to turn your expectations into reality

If you’re still determined to make the next New Year’s Eve celebrations your best one yet, consider your approach to how you plan the evening. For many people, much of their disappointment has to do with a lack of planning and decision-making.

Instead, get your friends together early to decide on your plans and create your own fun. Consider changing what you do; rather than seeking out a big house party full of people you hardly know, why not try a smaller gathering with a few close friends?

The options are endless but one thing remains clear: how likely it is your expectations will be met depends on how high you set them.

Before you set your expectations for New Year’s Eve, check out Dr Melissa Weinberg’s theory on why you might not be feeling the joy of Christmas

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Dr Melissa Weinberg
Dr Melissa Weinberg

Honorary Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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