Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.
Gretchen Rubin, author of two New York Times bestsellers, is our go-to gal for the best get-it-together know-how. Every week, she'll be dishing up her wisdom straight from her popular blog, The Happiness Project, to get you on the road to a more productive, healthier you. Here's to a 2014 resolution that sticks!
Happiness resolution: Choose a one-word theme for the new year. I love New Year’s resolutions — and I’m not the only one. Some 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. There’s a kind of resolution that I’ve never made before, but that has always fascinated me: identifying one idea, often summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.
My sister often does this kind of resolution. One year was the year of “free time.” Another year was “hot wheels” — that year, she got a car and started driving; she and I have both struggled with a fear of driving, which was much tougher for her, given that she lives in Los Angeles and I live in New York City.
Another friend of mine does the same thing. One year, I remember, was “dark,” another was “make.” I’ve never tried this approach before, but this year I want to give it a try. I knew exactly what word I wanted to pick: My theme for the year is “bigger.”
I have to fight the urge to simplify, to keep things manageable; this word will remind me to think big, to tolerate complications, to expect more from myself. Many people work to simplify their lives, but I struggle against the tendency to simplify too much. As Albert Einstein observed, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Have you ever tried this choose-a-theme approach? Did it help you direct your year? I heard from someone who chose the theme, “Finally breaking old bad behaviors.” Great idea. Now, it’s true that some ideas can’t be distilled into a single word, but I do think there’s a special power to the one-word theme. It’s so direct, so memorable. For example, “finally breaking old bad behaviors” might be distilled into “free.”
My challenge, starting in January, is to figure out what to do differently according to the theme. What will allow me to think “bigger?” I’m still trying to puzzle that out. My usual strategy is to make concrete, manageable resolutions that will help me bring about a larger change. But for “bigger,” I’ve decided that instead of translating it into resolutions, I will use it to frame my outlook — the way I invoke my twelve personal commandments.
I’m fascinated to get more ideas for themes. What theme or word would you pick?