Even though January is nearly over (does that make anyone else feel super old??), I’ve been feeling for some time that I needed to do a year-end reflection and commentary on 2016. I suppose being only 1/12 of the way through the year when I do so is not too bad…
2015 started off very rough for me. I was living in a town that I hated, working a job that was a poor fit for me, I had almost no friends, and there was no sign of change in sight. I actually went to a counselor a few times in December 2014 because I could feel genuine depression beginning to set in and my personality starting to change and it scared me. I cried pretty much every day and was generally miserable – but, I didn’t want to stay that way.
A friend sent me a book called the Happiness Advantage for Christmas, and starved for happiness as I was, I devoured it. None of it was revelatory new information; most of it was quite practical, and while written as a secular book, reflected principles I’d long heard in Christian circles. But, it was the little boost of hope that I needed to believe that happiness was possible again and that there was something I could actively do to obtain it.
So, armed with several of the book’s mantras – the most significant being to write down each day things that you’re grateful for/make you happy (specific to that day), as well as positive expectations for the day ahead – I began an attempt to retrain my brain to look for the good, instead of only seeing the negative that was very obviously in front of me.
To that end, I declared January, “Joyful January”, and made an effort to post a picture on Instagram every day of something (even if it was just a memory) that made me happy. That effort, combined with writing down things I was thankful for (combined with a wonderful birthday weekend in Nashville), got me out of the dangerous slump I was in. I believe that hope builds on hope – I had enough hope by the end of January that I could look for the light at the end of the tunnel and keep walking towards it, rather than despair in the darkness around me.
Fast forward to September, and I began another Instagram challenge – this one world-wide – of 100 Happy Days. In this challenge, participants are to post a picture every day of something happy about that day (so memories would not be included). It was hard, but I think I made it for about 85 of my 100 days, even if most of those pictures weren’t that aesthetically pleasing…
I’ve never been a huge proponent of pop psychology, but honestly, knowing that I “had” to post something happy each day, I really did begin to look for the good, and my perspective changed in both instances.
Every year, I like to choose a word to serve as theme for the year. This seems to be a lot more beneficial to me than New Year’s resolutions, as I’m much better at focusing on one word than a bunch of goals I might not keep. My word for 2015 was “joy” because I needed it so badly, and I’m grateful to say that I found joy, even in the midst of hard times (i.e., being miserable, losing my job, moving, etc.).
I realize that my circumstances changed quite a bit at the end of 2015, and I’m beginning 2016 filled with optimism as a result. But, I can’t help but wonder if my experience here in Nashville would still be quite as positive, had I not already begun the process of learning to look for the happy.
I don’t have a word for 2016 really. The only word that came to me as I was thinking about it was “success”, which sounds stupid, but maybe I’ll go with it anyway. Of course, I don’t mean success like making money, because Lord knows my job is not making me rich, as much as I love it. But, more like life success: growing in my relationship with the Lord; getting rooted in a church and friend community here in Nashville; taking care of myself and my home better… No specific goals, because then I can’t beat myself up about falling short some days, but long-term plans for success in personal growth.
Have you taken time to reflect on 2015? If you chose a word/resolutions, how did they go? Can you see a theme for the year, or have you picked one for 2016? I’m so hopeful about this year, and if you’re discouraged in any way, I wish so much that you’d join with me in renewing your hope. I’d encourage you to find ways like I did to retrain your brain to begin to look for and see the good, as well as to expect positive things each day, and throughout the whole year. Let’s all join together in making the year ahead a wonderful, joyful, successful one.