Instead of New Year’s resolutions, add more wonder to your life
Resolutions—do they really add more wonder to your life? Personally, I do not find New Year’s resolutions overly helpful, as most of the time they fail.
What could be an excellent time to stop and reflect on our lives as they are now and to develop ideas of what we would like them to become, instead feels like a scoreboard of who’s going to grind it out. So, other than setting aside time for ourselves to do absolutely nothing for a few minutes every day, you won’t find me encouraging New Year’s resolutions.
Trying something different, though? I’m 100% in favor of that. Learning and growing increases our wonder in the world. I came up with a list of 14 things you could try to add more wonder to your life.
Some of these are part of my daily practices, but others are ones that I’m working on, too. I’d love to hear your ideas for how to add more wonder to your life.
14 things to try in the New Year to add more wonder to your life
1. Read More
In these days of smartphone, a lot of us, including me, have caught ourselves gradually reading fewer and fewer books. While perhaps not the worst tragedy to befall us, we miss out on magic when we let scrolling overtake our reading time. Reading not only enriches our minds and opens untold doors of the imagination, deep reading also helps our minds and relaxes our bodies.
Last year I set a modest goal of reading twenty-one books on Goodreads to try and restore my once far more robust discipline. I met my goal, but, more importantly, I read more. In addition to a goal for how many books to read, I also ensured that my daily reading time was a critical part of my morning rituals, so I would do it. This year, I’m going to try and read 24 books and to incorporate more philosophy/criticism into my list.
This year, I want to get better and writing up a little precis about the books I’ve read. I find that I’m forgetting some long ago books, and I tend to remember things better when I write things down.
2. Learn a Language
My French is merde. So very bad. But, you know what? I’m learning. I had no idea that I still had Duolingo on my phone when I saw my youngest niece again for the first time in months last May. She loves to play on my phone, and liked the look of Duo the Owl, so she did a unit of Hungarian (the last language I had on there). The ability of young children to absorb languages both made me incredibly jealous, but also inspired.
I started back up with French from the very first unit. Two hundred and twenty-eight days later, I’m still at it. I’ve started watching French TV again (the Paris Murders—Profilage in French). It’s fun, and I do find myself slowly improving.
Learning a language as an adult is an uphill climb, but one worth making. It expands our minds and offers a practical skill. Maybe take up a new language in 2022? Duolingo is certainly not the only game in town, but it’s fun. I am using the Pro version, but the free version can easily get you started.
3. Expand your cooking horizons
Winter presents the perfect opportunity to crank up your oven and get cooking. This is a time to learn new dishes, to delve into seasonality, and to create comfort on a plate.
One of my colleagues in a recent team meeting described learning a Korean dish his mother used to make one month, and that this sent him on a path to learning simple Asian dishes that he cooks for his family. His excitement was absolutely contagious. How often have you heard me talk about work in this blog?
Learn a new cuisine
Maybe delve a bit into your culinary heritage? Or, perhaps learn a different one. If possible, try to get resources from the region itself. You may need to adapt recipes according to the ingredients you can source, but understanding what the dish is will help you, even as you make it your own. I found Edward Lee’s writing on authenticity in Buttermilk Graffiti illuminating (if complicated) here.
Or experiment with lots of different dishes
Or, maybe just try a new dish every week or month or week, depending on your desire. Who knows? You might add something to your regular rotation and over time, it will become a back-pocket recipe.
Have fun with it!
Whatever you do, have fun with it. Set aside time to cook (weekends are perfect for this, but easy weeknight dishes are fun, too), and have at it. You’ll eat better, and learning something new will introduce variety into your days.
4. Learn something just for the joy of it
What have you always wanted to learn about but just haven’t done it? Or, maybe there’s something you started to learn, but you dropped along the way? I took a survey art history course as an undergraduate and loved it, and then promptly never did anything with it ever again. When I went back to my parents’ house for our belated Christmas celebration, I saw my old textbook on a bookshelf. It kindled something.
I think that I’m going to learn more about art history this year, just because I want to. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like yet, but I’ve ordered A History of Art History, by Christopher S. Wood as a place to start and have added it to my reading list (see what I did there?).
For you, learning something new might be a new skill or craft. It doesn’t matter. Just follow your interest and expand your horizons. This is something you could plan as you go, get a book, or take a class. How is up to you, but learning something new for the sheer joy of it sparks curiosity like no one’s business. What are you going to learn?
5. Have some FUN!
All too often we focus so much on self-improvement that we forget to just have a good time. I think it’s why we sometimes develop less-than healthy “fun” pursuits. What brings you joy and laughter? Maybe it’s entertaining (small groups of vaccinated people, these days). Maybe it’s sledding. Maybe it’s playing a bananas game of fetch with your dog. Maybe it’s dancing like no one’s watching in your living room in your pajamas.
It doesn’t matter what floats your fun boat. Make time for it. We need your joy.
6. Cultivate your sense of everyday adventure
When we think of adventure, we often think of grand trips or big hikes (well, maybe you do) or skydiving or something. Those are indeed adventures, but going big doesn’t have to be the only way. Having an adventure can be as simple as walking in a new neighborhood and documenting what you find like you’re an explorer. Or testing the outer limits of what you feel comfortable doing (obviously still being safe—this isn’t an invitation to start driving like a bat out of hell on a crowded highway).
Little adventures every day can enrich your life and expand your horizons, even if you don’t leave home to do it.
7. Take more walks—find a nature spot
If you’re like me, you’re probably already walking a lot. Walking is a miracle and adds so much wonder to our lives. It’s healthy for our bodies and minds, and it takes us to interesting places. Also healthy is walking in nature. That’s easier for those living in rural environments than for city folk like me, but I am fortunate enough to live near a lovely wooded park that you’re probably sick of seeing photos of.
Those few minutes most days spent in the (mostly) quite space among the trees restore me. Ollie finds lots of smells, and the few people I encounter there have similar serene looks on their faces.
If you don’t have a spot yet, maybe look for a nearby park you could walk to, or perhaps a street that has more trees than others. It’s not always possible, obviously, but finding a way to walk in nature if you can will benefit you physically and mentally.
8. Give back
Finding ways to give of ourselves, whether through formal volunteer programs or just through everyday kindness takes the focus off of ourselves for just a minute. I really need to get better about this and am trying to find a way to volunteer more of my time on a formal basis. I wrote about this in the last Do Something post (part of the trouble is with the general Covid climate, but I also need to do better).
Perhaps a way to start is to draw up a list of skills that we have and then find organizations that could put those skills to use and see if they have volunteer programs. Or, perhaps we have people in our lives who could use some help, and we could help them.
I don’t have a good tip here. What’s your suggestion?
9. Cultivate compassion—for others and for ourselves
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in all my years of therapy is that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have to work with—including me. It’s a frustrating lesson, because sometimes it’s a lot easier to think that some people are just jerks instead of wounded human beings worthy of compassion. However, it is the truth.
This is a hard one
This does not mean that we condone actions of others that hurt us. Or pretend that the hurt caused is only in our minds (though, it often involves us believing in some way that we deserved what happened to us—that’s for the therapy chair). It’s not, and some wounds inflicted go much, much deeper than others.
Compassion doesn’t mean that we just put up with it
Compassion for others most certainly doesn’t mean keeping ourselves in harm’s way. Sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do for others and for ourselves is to walk away.
It means that we try
What this does mean is to try and keep our hearts open to the humanity of those who seek to harm us. And to keep our hearts open to the fact that we ourselves are only human when we do things that inflict suffering on others or ourselves.
A lifelong practice, and a place to start
Cultivating compassion is a lifelong practice, and goodness knows, I have loads of room to improve. The world certainly needs more of it. In addition to working on this through therapy, I also found Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, by Pema Chödrön an incredibly helpful introduction to the concept, if you need a place to start.
10. Write it down—create a journaling practice
We don’t have to be writers to get something out of a good journaling practice. Get a notebook (or use your computer) and just start writing. No one ever needs to read it.
If you need a prompt to get going, write down three things you did the day before and how they made you feel or what you thought about. Then write down three things you would like to do today and how they would make you feel.
Or, look out the window and write about what you see. What’s the weather like? The color of the sky? Any wildlife? Or wild characters? Describe the sounds you hear.
Or, write about what you’re reading.
Or, just write about whatever it is you’re thinking about at that moment, even if it’s how you can’t think of anything to write about. Chances are, you’ll think of something, anything to stop writing about that.
Creating a journaling practice for yourself can deepen your understanding of yourself and your thought process and gives you a record of your life. Maybe start with ten minutes a day?
11. Tend more to your physical space
Times being what they are, most of us are likely spending more time at home than we did in the Befores. What would make yours more inviting and peaceful? I lean in hard for the hygge theme this time of year, although with a bit of a wink. I have battery operated candles (most of them are on the floor, and with Ollie, I get nervous), and little lights like I’m some kind of teenage student, but they really do give everything a nice glow in the evenings.
Maybe cultivating a bit of a tidying practice would help? I have a planned post for some easy ways to keep things reasonably well organized.
12. Join a group—even if it has to be virtual for now
I’m currently a member of two groups. One’s a great community of women focusing on achieving our dreams, and the other is a group focused on creativity. Both meet online regularly and have community spaces where we can discuss our progress and challenges. I find the accountability helpful, and I’m seeing changes in my life as a result of being a part of these communities. Plus, I enjoy the company.
Maybe you have an interest that you’d like to cultivate and would benefit from some kindred spirits working on the same thing. Such groups often have modest fees associated with them, but you can from time to time find ones for free.
13. Work to address the climate emergency
We can all do more to limit our damage to the planet. Start composting, or reduce your single-use plastic consumption. Drive less or skip meat a day or two a week. If you’re looking for places to start, this list from NOAA is a good place to begin.
However, if we are going to make a substantive change to address our climate emergency, we must acknowledge that we can’t do this on our own as individuals. We have to get our governments to act immediately. You can contact your political leaders and tell them to support environmentally beneficial policies, and stick with it every month.
14 Make a plan to help you add more wonder to your life
If you want more wonder in your life, the best thing you can do is to just start doing things you think would do it. Just take an action today, and take another tomorrow. However, we all have busy lives, so a little planning helps.
“Sara’s Amazing Life”
For many years, I’ve done a yearly and monthly exercise that I call Sara’s Amazing Life (for this, I’ll change it to Sara’s Wonderful Life). If you want to try it, there’s a template linked below for subscribers. Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
The yearly exercise maps out things that I’d like to do in the coming year. Big dreams and small changes, whatever it is that I’d like to happen, I put it on the list. I have general categories, which I refined as a result of joining the dreams group I referenced above (because the categories are Emily’s method, I’m not going to give them here). I then add actions/dreams to each of those categories.
And then I try to come up with ways that I’ll actually do them, and this is where the monthly exercise comes in. What actions will I take this month to make my life amazing? This is a priority setting exercise, and I do my best to set achievable, if stretchy, goals for myself.
I also reflect back on the month before, using a color-coded system to indicate what worked and what didn’t, and why. Did I figure out some way to motivate myself to do Yoga that month or do the exercises for my photography class that worked especially well?
For things that didn’t work, I always begin by asking myself if it’s something that I really want to do. I try to use compassion with myself when I didn’t do what I set out to do, because often the biggest reason why I didn’t do it was fear.
An evolving practice
It’s an evolving exercise, and I change up my plan as circumstances or interests change. Some months when I’m super busy with work, it’s a small list. And other months, I can work on a lot.
A monthly plan is helpful, but months slip away without a daily plan. I wrote about Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day in a post about recommitting to my morning rituals practice back in October. I find their practice of committing to a highlight each day, and using tactics to build time into my day to focus on it and ensuring that I have the energy to do it incredibly helpful. Their method also involves a reflection, which I need to get back to doing.
Progress, not perfection
Again, this doesn’t work flawlessly. There are lots of days when I just don’t do what I wanted to do. Sometimes there are even months when I just don’t really get done what I wanted to do. The point is to have a practice that I can return to. A way to refocus and not have to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of ways to do this, and I encourage you experiment until you find one that works for you. And then tell me all about it.
How will you add more wonder to your life in 2022?
What would you like to do with your 2022? Let me know in the comments!