Are you having the best year of your life?
Are you having the best year of your life?
That is a question I recently asked my husband. First, he looked at me like I was crazy. Then he asked me, “Are you?”. I answered, “Yes!”. His expression registered utter disbelief. He obviously does not feel the same way, even though we have navigated the year together and wake up in the same bed every morning.
Are you having the best year of your life?
What would you say if I asked you if you had the best year of your life?
It can be challenging to thrive when we are constantly on guard against the invisible. The effects of the pandemic range from economic to physical to mental. No one is immune from all of them. Throw in the everyday challenges of being a human, and it is easy to jump from describing your year as “going great” to assessing it as “terrible.”
There will be failures, even in our best years
On the surface, you might wonder why I believe this has been one of the best years of my life. I have not gotten into shape, made lots of money, or ditched all my bad habits. I have screwed up and made plenty of mistakes. The pandemic is still here, making all of us a little nervous. I’m over 50, yet some days I struggle with acne and negative self-talk like a teenager. My life is not perfect. It never will be.
I have learned that your mindset in the face of challenges determines how your day (and then your year and your life) will go. I marvel at how my outlook has changed since I was a messed up young adult living with low self-esteem, self-doubt, and fear.
My heart aches for long-ago me, who didn’t know she could flip the switch and be kinder to herself. Better late than never. Eventually, that young woman turned out okay. Thankfully, I was better equipped to deal with life years later as the pandemic emerged.
What story are you telling yourself?
The dialogue in your head is the biggest indicator of how much positivity and resilience you will have, and ultimately whether you are headed for the best year of your life or not. For years I was my own worst critic. I talked myself out of happiness and achievement regularly. My thoughts were brutal. Bad situations were made worse by personal mental flogging. Today, I know how untrue those negative thoughts are and understand that I can replace them with positive messages.
I feel for children whose formative years are being shaped by the pandemic. They have not had decades of experience coping with lifelike older adults have. If they don’t have seasoned role models and wiser people cheering them on saying, “it’s going to be okay,” they might suffer more than they need to. Ultimately, many will develop resiliency. Tough times now teach people how to deal with tougher times later. The best we can do is pass on the skills we have learned. We can train people to tell better stories to themselves.
What makes a great year?
What determines the best and worst years of our lives? At first glance, I examine the circle of people around me and how I chose to spend my time. Did I spend time with people I care about? Did we smile and laugh? Did I set goals and achieve them? Did I make life better for myself and others? Did I find meaning in my work? Those are choices. Those choices lead to positive interactions, relationships, hobbies, work, and recreation. So why do I make better choices now than I used to?
This year I chose to practice self-care and pursue work that fulfills me, spend time with life-giving people and set new goals because of my outlook on life. Of course, I still stumbled, but overall I made an effort more days than not. Viewed over months and weeks, I can see patterns that make me proud, even though some days I failed utterly.
It starts wtih you, not the world around you
My outlook on life improved once I learned how to love myself and be grateful. It took years before I realized I had intrinsic worth and did not need anyone to validate my existence. It makes me sad to write that last sentence, yet I know I am not alone in this kind of thinking. Childhood and young adulthood are particularly trying for many people.
Once you love yourself enough to believe you deserve to be happy, it gets easier to express gratitude every day and make good life choices. You become more naturally optimistic, find delight in simple pleasures, and know there is always a silver lining in the darkest cloud. Self-love has unlocked the ability to live a life of joy despite my circumstances. No person and no pandemic can steal joy from me. However, if you find self-love difficult, the best year of your life will be hard to come by.
I have managed my mental state with self-help and a strong network of friends. It would have gone faster with professional help. If that’s what you need, by all means, seek out therapy to be as well as you can more quickly.
There is always a choice
Ultimately the pandemic gave us opportunities to make better choices. We could choose how to order our lives as the immediate restrictions eased and life resumed. Maybe the job you had suddenly wasn’t what you wanted anymore. For some of us, the money was no longer worth it. Families discovered that they could get by with less in the long term. We certainly did and, like many, used pandemic assistance to reduce our debt load substantially.
What got me through the past two years was being honest about what I needed in my life and what I should avoid. The first three weeks of isolation motivated me to make self-care a priority. It would have been easy to increase my alcohol consumption. Instead, I deliberately chose not to use increased drinking as a coping mechanism during the height of the pandemic.
Choosing the news and information I consume has kept me clear-headed and hopeful. I try to read various publications, make informed decisions, develop my own opinions, and keep the external feed to a digestible amount. As a result, my time on social media has been whittled down considerably while I pursue more productive ways to spend my time, like reading and creative hobbies.
Perhaps you re-discovered a past time that fulfills you and began to find solace in the activity. Did you learn a new skill or take up a hobby to improve yourself? I believe creativity bloomed in the face of adversity by allowing us to think about life differently. As a result, I have chosen to spend more time writing, drawing, and doing other contemplative activities that help me think and grow.
Simple, time-tested habits
I’ve embraced the basics lately, like keeping a consistent bedtime, getting plenty of rest, and getting up at a regular time. In addition, I journal, practice gratitude, and have learned to stop talking to myself like a jerk, which has helped me be kinder to others.
Life changes over the past year and a half made it easier to introduce new habits. By embracing small daily goals, I have now developed consistent behavior patterns. Over time, those actions have translated into better thought processes. It helps to document them, so you see a track record of practices taking shape. When you mess up, don’t quit. Give yourself grace and try again.
Instead of criticizing myself, I use encouraging and forgiving self-talk to get through my day. Now, I believe that I am capable of incremental change and am okay just the way I am, even though I continue to focus on continued growth every day.
None of these are secrets. You can read about them in millions of books and articles on the internet. Pick one habit you believe will make a difference for you and work on it with patience and consistency. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest picking a habit that gives you physical energy to battle with your mind later. For example, an earlier bedtime today will help me talk nicer to myself tomorrow. Tired me doesn’t have as much energy to fight thoughts like “let’s just sleep in instead of getting up to go for a walk this morning.”
Happiness is both a mindset and a journy
Are you waiting for someday “when” or “if” to be happy with your life? The truth is you do not need a future event to transform you into the best version of yourself. You are who you are at this particular moment, not who you were yesterday or who you will be tomorrow. You can patiently work on becoming your best self every day. Start with the next choice. You will never be finished growing, and you won’t arrive at the door of happiness and stop. The journey goes on as long as you do.
Every year is going to be the best year of my life
I have built a good life and learned from good and bad experiences. I am resilient. I believe I matter to people and make a difference in the world. I have the mental capacity to combat tough times. Middle age brings an appreciation for waking up and getting to try again another day.
There isn’t going to be one best year in my life. Every year gets to be the best one ever because I have embraced an attitude of accepting what I cannot change, working to change what I can, and finding joy in the small moments of life. As long as I am here, I expect to have the best year of my life.
Originally published at medium.com on January 3, 2022