What I Learned From Recording the Best Parts Of Each Day For All Of 2016
For the year 2016, my 21st year, I decided to do something different. I bought a clear jar and struck an agreement with myself that at the end of each day, for all 365 days of the year, I would write down the best parts of that day on a little piece of paper and place it in the jar. I was curious about how a persistence in recording life’s daily happenings, and only the positive ones for that matter, would affect the way I experienced the year.
I wanted to know:
Would I start approaching each day and maybe even the moments of my life with a new attitude?
Would I become a more mindful person, aware of the moments unfolding in front of me?
Would I experience more gratitude?
What would I learn about the passage of time?
And to amp up the experience even more, I decided I wouldn’t open the jar until the end of the year.
What kinds of things would I be thinking as I went through all of my little notes?
Would any powerful epiphanies flood at me and would I suddenly have the answer to the mystery that we call life? (That was probably a stretch, but I wasn’t opposed to keeping it in the back of my mind.)
I was very excited to see how my little time capsule experiment would measure up against these big life questions. And what I found was that I examined and discovered more about life in one year than I had in my past twenty.
How we live each day is how we live our lives.
We often wake up in the morning and see “the day” as this obstacle to get through. While brushing our teeth in the morning, we mentally check through all the things that need to be done, letting out a heavier sigh with each task. And we simply surrender. After all, that’s the easiest thing to do.
At the beginning of the year, that was me- someone who just went through the motions. I was often on autopilot, mindlessly going through life. I would plop into bed at the end of the day, not even sure what really happened over the past 15-17 hours. But the more the days and months went on, as I put more notes in my jar, the more I found myself noticing the little things, like simply how nice it was when I found the time to curl up in bed with a book and some music.
And I started realizing it was these little things, each day, that were special, and I never wanted to overlook them. The most ordinary is sometimes the most significant. And these are the things that I know when I’m older and looking back, I’ll be pining for the most.
It’s not just the huge milestones that can make your stomach wrench with pride and send that surge of joy through you, but equally, those moments in between.
And those moments are your life.
It’s not about what happens to us, but the meaning we assign to it.
The way we write the narratives of our lives, the stories we tell ourselves of what has happened to us and what we are as a result, makes up who we are. I realized that it’s not so much about what we have done, but the way we respond to it. What sticks with us is the attitude we tell the stories of our lives in. It’s about if we let moments make us feel regretful or broken, or if we see them with joy and with silver- linings.
When I was going through my little notes, I didn’t remember all of the events in a play-by-play manner, but what was as clear as day were the feelings I got from them. Whether I was enlightened, proud, challenged… those feelings stuck with me. I’ll forget all these events someday, but what will stay with me forever is the learning and sentimentality that occurred to me in them.
Living in gratitude brings about the best kind of happiness, because it’s not fleeting.
Lastly, this practice had me counting my blessings and living in gratitude, every day. When you’re consistently grateful, and when you always have those things in the back of your mind that you know make you feel invincibly lucky to be living your life, you have everything you need. I realized that just knowing that my family members were safe and healthy, that I had a roof over my head, and that I go to my dream university are enough to make me jump for joy. I learned that a satisfying life doesn’t come from getting what you want, but from wanting what you have.
A tenet in Judaism is emphasis on counting our blessings and seeing the holiness around us. One of the goals of living a Jewish life is to experience arguably mundane experiences as spiritual adventures, and to feel love and wisdom in all things. This isn’t a completely natural mindset, but a way to practice it is to set a kavannah, or intentional mantra, at the beginning of the day, such as “I
will be present today” or “I will show only love in my interactions today.” A ritual reflection at the end of the day can also help us to return to core values, to nurture Jewish spirituality, and to remember what’s important.
I deem this experiment to be a major success, and I urge everyone to do this in 2017 (even if it means starting a few weeks into it)!
The big moments, the fleeting ones… these make up your life. And all the Snapchats and Instagrams and Facebook postings you take will become old memories one day. But right now, these moments aren’t stories you’re laughing about with old friends- they’re happening to you.
So go on and live your ordinary, yet extraordinary life.