After the trees have let go of their leaves and the winter wind begins to whip, I like to write an end-of-the-year letter to each of my children. Part annual review and part love letter, these writings are a place for me to reflect on the year’s milestones as well as the smaller, equally important moments that make up the texture of our lives. Recently, I’ve begun the practice of composing similar letters to work colleagues, clients, mentors, and even to myself.
These letters are an intentional exercise in gratitude and an effort to be present in the moment. Like many people, I spend the final days of December making resolutions about what I hope to accomplish in the coming year. While this practice is worthwhile, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “if, then.” (If I close the deal, then I will be happy. If I lose weight, then I will be more loveable. If I get that promotion, then I will feel appreciated). That’s why I like to take time with these letters to acknowledge and celebrate what is already good in my life. I hope the letters help to inspire their recipients to do the same.
When I write a letter, I close my eyes and focus on sensory details – the sounds of Chopin coming from my daughter’s piano and the whoosh of my son running past me at the finish line of a track meet. I also recall moments at work – the roar of excitement in a meeting when a deal is struck, the smell of coffee brewing on a Monday morning. My phone has become a useful tool for letter writing as I review hundreds of photos from the past year to help jog my middle-aged memory. I view the images in chronological order and often get teary when December’s moments appear. As I swipe through photos in a year that once again flew by, the letter marks an end and a beginning.
My hope is that my letters will make people think, feel valued, and perhaps, laugh. Scientists say that humor and joy make us healthier. Laughing reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, elevates our mood, and counteracts depression. After all, this is an end- of-the-year letter, not a human resources evaluation.
When you think back on 2017, try to hold on to those moments when you were already your best self – when you showed courage, listened to others and made them feel valued, or when you helped someone realize a goal. Whether you decide to write a letter to yourself, to a colleague, or to a loved one, I offer a few questions to consider:
- Are you living your values?
- Whose life or career did you help to nurture this year?
- What actions did you take at work or home that you are most proud of?
- Who made you feel loved and whom did you love?
- What brought you the greatest joy?
While January 1st signifies a new beginning, every day of the year provides an opportunity to start anew, reboot, try harder, and be present in the moment.
Happy New Year!