I decided to make 2016 the best year of my life. So, was it?

A year ago today (Dec. 31 2015) I came up with an odd plan. I read the quote The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood* and I decided to challenge myself to make 2016 the best year of my life. It’s been a year now. How did it work?

Well, implementation was challenging. A few days into 2016 I realized that I had already forgotten my plan, which wasn’t exactly an encouraging start. So I considered how most mornings I write down anything I have to do that day, often adding things I’d like to get to, errands I’ll run if I have time, that kind of thing. This daily note to myself works to ground me, it keeps me from worrying that I’ll forget something important, and it often sets my mood for the day.

Aha. Mood for the day. Well, it looked like I could just make my little lists the key. Soon, instead of merely putting a date at the top, I was writing out things like January 16 2016, the best January 16th of my life. It was a little goofy (and cumbersome) but it got me in the right frame of mind. Why shouldn’t this be the greatest January 16th I’ve ever had? I mean, I don’t remember the others.

The good news was that after a few weeks of this I didn’t have to write out the whole thing. I got the point where I could merely write down February 2, 2016 and the voice in my head would oblige by chirping out the rest. The best February 2 of my life. And instead of yelling at the little voice to shut up, I’d go out the door and try to make it so.

blessed weird 3Some days, I forgot my mission by the time I got to my car, as a minor irritation like forgetting my coffee or finding my gas tank low took over and I never recovered. Other days I kept at it for a while, or for all of the day, and occasionally I got a second wind. When any of these happened I actively looked for evidence that this March 10th was special. It won’t surprise anyone that when I did look for evidence of how fine the day was, I found it.

Glitches occurred on days that had strong past memories. Take March 17. It’s going to be hard to ever top the year I was in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, so I had to aim for my second best March 17 ever. Or take March 28, the day my dad died two decades ago. I tried to have a less painful day than usual, one with a bit of unexpected comfort. Yes, I found it, too.

As spring turned into summer I realized that I was helped by the fact that some things about this year really were particularly good for me. I’ve recently moved to a part of the country I like much better, and I’ve been able to go from working full time to part time and to put my extra free time into taking better care of myself and doing more things I enjoy. That’s got to be good, right?

My husband likes to point out how we seldom notice what doesn’t happen and he’s right. Late summer and early autumn brought more time than usual with those I am close to, and my new focus forced me to notice how those I love have remained healthy and safe this year, and even in many cases found more happiness of their own. Wow. A good year for them is a better year for me. Chalk up more evidence on the “best year ever” side.

But not everything in 2016 could be classed as “best ever.” There were challenges I did not anticipate on December 31, 2015. I believe strongly in tolerance and in the important of treating each other with compassion and consideration. As the presidential race came into the home stretch, and concluded with the worst of all possible outcomes in my opinion, I was horrified that so many of my fellow humans placed such little importance on these traits. I’m still trying to get my arms around that, and around my own fears for the future based on the outcome of the election.

raising ecstacy 1So, was 2016 the best year of my life? Probably not, though it offered me a lot for which to be thankful.

Was it a better year than it would have been without this goofy challenge to myself? Absolutely.

Is 2017 going to be the best year of my life? Maybe. Probably not, but I hope it will be. Am I going to try to make it so? You bet I am.

Tomorrow’s little list will say “January 1, 2017, the best January 1 of my life.”  I’ll take it from there.

(Visit “My Best New Year’s Resolution Yet” to read my Dec. 31, 2015 promise to myself to make 2016 my best year ever.)

*The quote is from François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), more commonly known as Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer famous for his wit and his advocacy of freedom of expression. He also said Common sense is not so common and Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. He was man at least 300 years ahead of his time.

It didn’t take a spaceship

Dalai 6I had this odd reoccurring daydream that started when I was about thirteen and kept me mentally entertained whenever I was bored.

I was on a spaceship by myself on a very long journey. I was quite happy about it, and was planning my schedule. How would I use my days? I’d allocate time for exercise (practicing yoga, perfecting the hula), for chores (doing fun space ship things) and for learning (French? Ancient history? Organic chemistry? Modern literature?). I would try to think of every aspect of my being and how to best enrich it and then I added to and rearranged my schedule endlessly, much to my own delight.

I’m serious.  I spent hours doing this. I have no idea why.

Then, of course, I grew older and filled my life up the way that adults do and I forgot about my favorite fantasy. A few decades passed, and now I realize that I should have given it more thought. If I had, I might have realized that

  • In spite of a friendly nature and tendency to smile at people, I am an off the charts introvert. Anyone who fantasizes about being alone on a spaceship as a child should not be surprised by her Myers-Briggs test results twenty years later.
  • There was no need to fight my compulsive desire to make lists. It was a losing battle. They say be true to yourself and planning my day is being true to me.
  • I love to learn, and should have made more time for it sooner. I’m making time for it now.
  • I don’t like other people telling me how to spend my day. This makes me a poor candidate for a traditional job, but a job is what I needed for the last couple of decades. We don’t all get the luxury of deciding that working for someone else is not our cup of tea. However, today I do have the option of working as a consultant in my field, and I should embrace this opportunity (and its many downsides) with all my heart.
  • We all want to be happy.  Knowing yourself is a giant part of finding fulfillment and contentment. Listening to your oddest, most secret dreams will tell you how to seek out joy in your own life. There are no right answers.

raising7Why did I suddenly remember this daydream? Well, I have a little more flexibility and free-time in my schedule now than I’ve had for years. With it has come an increasing excitement for planning my days and filling them with just the right mix of activities that enrich every part of my being. So I guess that is the last and most important thing I learned.

I don’t have to be sequestered on a spaceship by myself in order to do the things I want. I get to do them right here, right now, and can even sometimes share my joy with another like minded soul or two. In other words, I get to have my childhood fantasy, and it’s better than I thought.

Too much joy?

cakeOne of my clearest memories is eating too much frosting as child. It tasted so wonderfully sweet all by itself that I couldn’t stop shoving globs of it into my eager eight-year-old mouth. As you might guess, I was incredibly happy for a short while, and now decades later I still don’t care much for the stuff.

click to like Your Beautiful Life

click to like Your Beautiful Life

I’ve had a bit too much emotional frosting the past couple of weeks and am suffering from a similar need to go lie down. A major family thanksgiving gathering was followed immediately by a birthday celebration that was followed by the graduation of a family member that was rolled into about ten straight days filled with food and drink and visitors and it all was very wonderful but I’ve got a tummy ache that makes me wonder if sustained joy is particularly healthy.

I think about the nature of happiness a lot, given that the ability to experience joy is one of the central themes of my novel y1.

One can wax eloquent about how we need valleys in order to have hills and while that is true, I don’t think this translates into a truth that one must endure intermittent horrible sorrow in order to feel deep joy. Perhaps it is only necessary that great times are broken up with quiet times and my problem is simply one of overload. Obviously we all need a break from rich food and alcohol, but I think that we also need a break from noise and conversation, and time to process input. No matter how much we live in the moment, at some point we need to step out of the joys of that moment and regroup. It’s a human thing.

click to like Your True Voice

click to like Your True Voice

We also need unstructured time, to do the silly and unplanned. Gatherings with loved ones can provide that, but let’s face it, they usually don’t. Groups need a certain amount of order, at least when attending functions together, and all that structure wears one out after awhile.

Joy. It comes at you lots of ways. Some weeks it’s your sister from across the country and your kids all home for a holiday and the best restaurant in Austin Texas. Other times it’s nothing but salad and fresh fruit for a day and time spent staring into the fireplace at night. Maybe even lighting a fire there first.