The simple “happy new year” plan

Icy trees also make me happy.

Icy trees also make me happy.

Here’s to putting the happy back in 2009.

For anyone who didn’t spend quite as much time last weekend as they’d planned reflecting on personal resolutions and creating elaborate schemes for the Best! Year! Yet!, I have a simple approach.

Making a detailed plan works for some people. But if you’re not of that stock, you don’t need to shy away entirely from what can be a rewarding and – dare I say it? – empowering activity.

Welcoming the new year in some deliberate way puts you in the catbird’s seat. You’re putting the year on notice, so to speak. We’re onto you, 2009. We see you flaunting yourself about on calendars everywhere. Well, that’s just fine. You’re not about to escape us.

Even a small gesture can shift your perception of those crafty, shifting sands of time. Besides, in this time of economic chaos, taking more of a bird’s eye view seems smart. (Especially if you’re already in the catbird’s seat.) What matters amidst upheaval is the big picture – we’ll likely all have to be more flexible and resourceful than usual when it comes to the details in 2009.

So here’s the plan.

1. Spend a moment reflecting on what really makes you happy. Think bigger than career goals or travel plans. What are the meta-narratives and the uber-themes of your life that define you and inspire you? I don’t mean this to sound overly grand … it’s just about reaching that layer above where our heads usually are for everyday matters. Relationships can be on the list, too. If you have an extra few minutes for the deluxe version of this process, also consider what makes your life unique: that inimitable combination of your story and your talents. In this economy, having a strong grasp on your particular thumbprint (I’m finished with cats and birds and have moved onto thumbs for a while) may help you re-think the way you spend your time.

2. Make a list of several things already in place in your life that make you happy. Yes, writing down what you’re thankful for sounds hopelessly clichéd and even overly elementary, but it’s one of the best ways to focus on what works for you. And I swear, focusing on what works makes more things work. A simple list only takes a couple of minutes and doesn’t have to be profound. I must admit that trees often appear on my list. Yes, I’m thankful for trees. Even more than thumbs, they make me happy. Thumbs up for trees. This realization translates into strolling through nature and staring longingly out my kitchen window, perhaps for long stretches of time. Ah, you’re feeling better about your own list already, aren’t you? I’m sure you’ll come up with something more piercing than that. The point is not to wonder about my personal time management skills but rather to realize that sometimes just approaching life from a position of gratitude creates other important shifts.

3. Find ways this year to focus on the happy fruits of these reflections. That might mean making a goal or two or getting rid of a few activities that don’t fit the bill. Or it might mean simply deciding to more fully appreciate what’s already at your fingertips and seeing what the perceptual shift will do for you.

As you can see, the theme here is happy. That is how the saying goes, after all … “happy new year.” So let’s put the happy back.  I know it sounds simple. So simple, in fact, that there’s no harm in trying it.

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