I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I’m a huge fan of personal growth. Instead of a resolution, I give each year a theme. This is the story of my two-year journey on the theme of joy (complete with epic fail in 2014 and recommit in 2015). I hope it inspires you to choose a theme for 2016.

At the end of 2013, things were going well for me. Work was good. My relationship with my husband was strong. And parenting was, notwithstanding the inevitable bumps, mostly rewarding. I was happy. And yet I wasn’t thriving.

At work, everything was getting serious. I was a leader and I had responsibilities and obligations (and million dollar sales targets). At home, my husband and I were a well-oiled machine of household responsibilities: often sacrificing time together to tag team on shopping, laundry, and driving the kids around. While I was almost always happy, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt joyous. Life had become a bit heavy.

So there it was. I had something lofty to aspire to: I was going to make 2014 the year of joy. I started by defining joy. For me, joy is being lost in the moment with an all-encompassing feeling of bliss, euphoria, and delight. Joy is lightness.

I thought about joy a lot in 2014. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience it much. I think I was trying too hard. And if I learned anything that first year, it’s that you can’t force joy: you can’t put too much weight on lightness. I think that’s why it was such an elusive state for me. I was great at achieving things I could manufacture out of hard work. But joy required me to give over to the moment—the antithesis of being disciplined.

At Christmas 2014, I went for dinner with two of my girlfriends. I shared with them that 2014 was supposed to have been the year of joy, but that I could now honestly say that I hadn’t made much progress. So I was calling a “do-over.” 2015 would be the year of joy.

I’m very happy to report that it was a big success the second time. I experienced joy as I made the decision to start a new company. I overflowed with joy when I saw my new website splashed with all my favorite colors. I danced around the kitchen in joy with my kids lip-syncing into a soup-ladle microphone. I revelled in joy with my husband when we snuck off to a restaurant in the middle of a workday. And, most surprisingly to me, I found total, overwhelming, tear-inducing joy at the end of a 223km bike ride (read that story here).

In case you’re interested in trying the joy project, here are a few tips that it took me two years to learn:

  • Joy doesn’t happen on a schedule. You have to be willing to deviate from your plan and let joy interrupt the mundane.
  • You won’t feel joy while you’re worried about looking foolish. You have to barge into joy with reckless abandon.
  • You can’t manufacture joy. Joy is inversely related to both effort and expense. Luxurious vacations and beautiful things are seldom the source of joy. (Unfortunately, for me I’m often so concerned about making experiences awesome that I ruin them by trying to force joy.) I more often find joy in things that are free. My top three would be music, water (particularly in puddle form), and dance.
  • Joy is fantastic alone and even better when shared. When I could tie my joy back to something someone had done, I made sure to send a note to let them know. That way joy becomes contagious.

I have so much more I’d love to say about joy, but I’ll stop rambling now.

What’s your theme for 2016?

I encourage you to pick a theme for 2016. There’s no right or wrong subject for a theme. You can pick wellness, growth, courage, or anything else that feels like the crux of what would make your life even better. Once you pick a theme, try these tips:

  • Tell someone. My two girlfriends knew about my joy theme. Each time I saw them, I shared a story of joy. That felt great. We would text pictures or quotes related to joy. That kept joy top of mind.
  • Work it into your life. I didn’t go on a joy retreat. I didn’t reserve every second Tuesday for joy. I made joy the lens through which I evaluated the success of my weeks and months. The question is not “how do I stop my life and have more joy.” The question is “how do I work more joy into my life.”
  • Learn from the opposite. Unlike a New Year’s resolution, there’s no breaking a theme. If you do the opposite of your theme, learn from the other side. You’ll learn just as much about courage from the choice not to be courageous. As long as you learn from it, the choice not to be courageous still counts toward your theme.

If you’re interested in working toward a theme in 2016, I’d love to hear about it. Leave it in the comments for all to share or send me an email and tell me the story of your theme.

If you’re wondering, I’m still struggling to choose my 2016 theme. Joy was just such a good one; it’s hard to imagine replacing it. But a thought is forming around the idea of really going deeply into the moment—fighting the superficiality of the smart phone world and really engaging in the here and now. More to come on that.

Further Reading

New Year’s Resolution: Resolve to Add More Value on your Team

Sticking to It

Predictions for 2017

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