I am a list maker, a note taker, a goal setter, a too-many-books-to-read-at-one-time reader, and so-much-could-be-better-in-this-world dreamer, so January can be both a blessing and a curse to me. I start the new year by reflecting on the past one, by reminiscing about the best memories of the year, by reading past journal entries (and sometimes annoying my husband and two kids by making them take the trek down memory lane with me), by cleaning out junk drawers and closets, by confusing my husband when I move the canned foods to the pull out drawers instead of, he says, “where they have been for almost twenty years,” by creating a grand plan for getting a handle on my life spiritually, mentally, and physically. Sometimes my intention to follow the “out with the old, in with the new” mindset leaves me mired in old journal entries, boxes and drawers of photos, and stacks of simply adorable videos of my now college-age kids until I realize I have spent a day of my beloved Christmas break without really “accomplishing” anything, without checking one little item off my list. And then I give up.
This year, I decided, would be different. Instead of my traditional New Year’s list of lose ten pounds, stop cussing, pray more, manage money better, get organized, etc., I want to focus more on Henry David Thoreau’s premise in Walden: “live deliberately.” Thoreau was my hero when I was an idealistic high school junior dreaming of being a high school English teacher and famous writer one day, and his words have resonated with me for the thirty-seven years since then. Obviously, that must be a sign for how to live my life. Even more importantly, Oprah, my living hero, constructs her whole life around the idea of what she calls “living with intention.” According to her, after doing that, everything falls into place the way the Universe intends.
Well, what exactly, does living deliberately/living with intention mean? To me, it means noticing life and appreciating it. When I walk with my lab Axle each morning, I say prayers of thanksgiving for the day, for my family, for this journey – even though the January days may be cold and dreary and even though Axle sometimes runs off into the woods when he sees a squirrel and makes me stress out when I can’t find him. I try to focus my intention on making someone else’s life better by doing little things like sending hand-written (yes, hand-written and MAILED) notes to people I love or by cooking a special meal for someone or by encouraging someone who is embarking on the Weight Watchers journey as I have done. These small, seemingly insignificant acts take so little time in the grand scheme of things.
No, I am not Oprah giving away cars or homes to people in need or anything, but even if I can’t change someone’s life, perhaps I can change someone’s day. Instead of (admittedly) obsessing over Twitter feeds and frightening political events going on these days, I am trying to focus more on positive ways to make a difference. One of those is High Five to Kindness, an online community promoting kindness and compassion in ways that any of us can do, no matter how busy we are. The website provides ideas like “give a genuine compliment,” “pass out cookies during exams,” “donate a hat to kids with cancer,” “clean up trash,” “hold a door open.” Such simple, intentional ideas.
Another concept I have embraced is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Happiness Jar , an idea I saw on her Instagram post. It takes about ten seconds to do: At the end of the day, on a scrap of paper, write down the date and the happiest moment from the day, fold the paper, and put it in a jar. At the end of the year (or any time during the year when you need a jolt of happiness), read the slips of paper. This is a perfect exercise in intention! It makes me look for the positive moments throughout the day and then makes me appreciate them as I reflect at the end of the day. They are “little moments” like hearing my son Dawson talk about what he learned in philosophy class during first semester of college or enjoying a meal prepared by my daughter Emma Jane and her girlfriend Savannah or watching “This is Us” with my husband Kelly and shedding some tears over the episode. These are the moments that I may forget one day if I don’t write them down; these are the moments that may fly by, possibly unobserved.
These are the moments whose significance some people may not even notice…but from now on, I will.