White space and gratitude – two themes that keep popping up this year, whether in this great article on downtime or this TED talk from Brother David Steindl-Rast. For me these concepts are also deeply, not-quite-consciously embedded in my own new year’s reflection process, which focuses on reinvesting in joy. I described this process in my very first blog post last year, reprinted below.
Brother David notes, “we cannot be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.” My wish for all of you – for all of us – is a year full of such moments.
Like many people, my year end used to be shadowed by “should’ves”. I would reflect on resolutions from years past, and instead of feeling great about all of the good things, I’d end up focusing on the things leftover on the list – work un-done, trips un-taken, pounds un-lost.
Then, a few years ago, I tried flipping this process around. I spent an hour at the end of the year reviewing my calendar from the past twelve months, noting all of the things I was glad to have done. Where had I invested my time, and where were the rewards the greatest? Some entries – family reunions, long-anticipated vacations, big professional events – naturally were already top of mind. But what surprised me were the smaller moments that jumped out – afternoon tea with a long-lost friend, a great movie, a blissful day that appeared almost empty on the calendar but was filled in my mind with vivid detail of a long autumn hike. After reviewing all of these wonderful elements, the un-done items on my to-do list suddenly seemed unimportant.
Then I looked at the calendar for the coming year, with all of its promising white space. And I started gleefully filling it up, based on my joyful list from the year before. I wanted to reinvest in all that had proven to bring great rewards, so I added placeholders for some big things, like those trips and family events… and then I stopped. Because I also wanted to be sure to protect the ability to have that tea, or see that movie, or visit that friend. I wanted to intentionally leave a bit more blank space for them.
Starting with the joys of the prior year was so much better than starting with its shortcomings! And focusing on reinvestment, on building up that joy from year to year, in whatever form it takes – it’s been revolutionary.
In this new year, I wish you joy.
Or, as Brother David says,
Stop. Look. Go.