I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions. I found them to be restrictive (even though I picked them) and I would often feel like a failure if I didn't complete them.
Then a friend suggested choosing a one-word theme to pursue on January 1st instead of listing New Year's resolutions. The idea felt liberating, because I didn't have to struggle to be perfect. I was on board!
So on January 1st of that year, I ditched my usual New Year's resolutions and chose "joy" as my theme. On March 10th of the following year, I met my future husband.
When choosing my theme, I wanted something that made me smile, incited excitement and spurred me to start right away. It couldn't feel like homework.
Initially I considered words like "dating" or "boyfriend" or "husband." After all, I was 38 years old and longed to find my right guy. However, I had unconsciously chosen those words year after year with unfavorable results.
I decided to buck insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result), and chose something that was within my control and what I needed -- more joy.
My future guy would have to wait. I had decided to love and value me first.
Identifying a Theme
Before I chose my theme, I reflected on what I really wanted -- a life partner, a job I loved and more meaning in my life.
Then I dug deeper and asked myself a very important question -- "Why?"
"Why did I want a husband, a job I loved and more meaning?"
My answers kept coming back to "joy." I thought having a husband would fill me with joy. I imagined a job I loved would make me jump out of bed with joy. I wanted more meaning, because I had lost joy when my dreams hadn't come true. Joy was definitely in order.
Then it hit me -- it might be possible to have what I really wanted now even without a husband, a job I adored or knowing what my future would hold.
What do you want?
Do you want more money? Do you want to heal a heartbreak? Lose weight? Mend relationships? Explore your city and the world? Love yourself more?
Now ask yourself, "Why do you want xyz?"
You might be surprised by how you answer that question. One of your answers may be your theme for the year.
Staying The Course
My New Year's resolutions usually waned by January 3rd, so I had to do something different to keep "joy" top of mind for 365 days.
I decided to finally start a gratitude journal of sorts. Instead of writing down five things I was grateful for, I spoke them out loud while I blowed dried my hair. I also made a list of fun activities and put them on my calendar.
One of the most impactful commitments I made was to choose joy even if it meant saying "no" to people and organizations I loved. This was tough for me, because people-pleasing was my specialty.
Saying "no" got easier over time as my calendar filled with engaging activities. When I was tempted with a request, I would ask myself, "Does this bring me joy?" If I answered "no," I declined.
If I couldn't or didn't want to avoid an uninviting activity (like a mammogram or a job assignment), then I looked for ways to make the activity a bit more fun. Many times, I decided to view the situation in a positive light and that would do the trick.
You might consider taping your theme on your bathroom mirror, save it as your screensaver, change your password, or set a recurring timer on your phone with an encouraging question. For example, "What actions would I take if I already felt xyz?" or "How can I pursue more xyz this week?"
When reflecting back on that year, I'm so grateful for how it unfolded.
I decided early on that success was in the pursuit of the theme and not in the outcome.
This decision made it more fun to continue and enabled me to be kinder to myself if things didn't work out as I hoped or planned.
That year I experienced the difference between self-care and self-ish. You see, I previously thought self-care meant I was being selfish. Little did I know, practicing self-care would help me show up as my best self when I served others.
I also made an amazing discovery about love. Thanks to my gratitude practice, I acknowledged the love I had cultivated with friends, coworkers, family and my community. I had more love in my life than I had ever realized. Talk about feeling joyful!
The greatest gift I experienced was a sense of purpose. Because I understood the plight of single women, I coordinated talks with my mentor to support and encourage single women. It was invigorating to bring women together and share our experiences.
Meeting My Husband
The year I sought joy was the year I had fewer dates than in previous years. If this had happened in my mid 30s, you would have seen me crying and asking why I couldn't find the right guy. This year was different.
Finding a man was no longer on the top of my wish list. I was too busy loving life and pursuing my purpose. When sadness and tears crept up, they were more temporary than ever before.
Choosing and creating joy cultivated something priceless within me -- hope for the future.
One afternoon I chatted with my next door neighbor about a happy hour I was planning. He and I had been neighbors for three years, but he had never offered to set me up with a friend. He did that day. He set me up with my future husband.
Maybe my neighbor noticed I radiated joy. Maybe he witnessed how I chose joy regardless of the circumstance. I like to think so.