Choose One Word to Set the Tone for Next Year.

Happiness resolution: Choose a one-word theme for the new year.

I love New Year’s resolutions – and I’m not the only one. Some 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.

There’s a kind of resolution that I’ve never made before, but that has always fascinated me: identifying one idea, often summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.

My sister often does this kind of resolution. One year was the year of “Free Time.” Another year was “Hot Wheels” — that year, she got a car and started driving; she and I have both struggled with a fear of driving, which was much tougher for her, given that she lives in Los Angeles and I live in New York City. (Warning, non sequitur: follow her on Twitter, @elizabethcraft.)

Another friend of mine does the same thing. One year, I remember, was “Dark,” another was “Make.”

I’ve never tried this approach before, but this year I want to give it a try. I knew exactly what word I wanted to pick. My theme for the year is “Bigger.”

I have to fight the urge to simplify, to keep things manageable; this word will remind me to think big, to tolerate complications, to expect more from myself. Many people work to simplify their lives, but I struggle against the tendency to simplify too much. As Albert Einstein observed, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Have you ever tried this choose-a-theme approach? Did it help you direct your year?

I heard from someone who chose the theme “Finally Breaking Old Bad Behaviors.” Great idea. Now, it’s true that some ideas can’t be distilled into a single word, but I do think there’s a special power to the one-word theme. It’s so direct, so memorable. For example, “Finally Breaking Old Bad Behaviors” might be distilled into “Free.”

My challenge, starting in January, is to figure out what to do differently, according to the theme. What will allow me to think “Bigger?” I’m still trying to puzzle that out. My usual strategy is to make concrete, manageable resolutions that will help me bring about a larger change. But for “Bigger,” I’ve decided that instead of translating it into resolutions, I will use it to frame my outlook – the way I invoke my Twelve Personal Commandments.

I’m fascinated to get more ideas for themes. What theme or word would you pick?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* Why is this short video of a train leaving a station — slowed down to 210 frames per second — so mesmerizing? Not sure why, but it is.

* Join the conversation on the Facebook Page. Lots of interesting discussion there.

  • The Contrarian

    Hey Gretchen – How about: “Do more with Less”!

  • Deidra

    I’ve picked a word to live by a few different years. The most memorable, and one that caused the most growth, was “Generous.” I can be a little stingy sometimes, so it was good for me to be reminded to give more freely.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a good one. I have to work hard on that as well.

  • LivewithFlair
  • Tricia

    Gretchen – For the theme of “Bigger,” I recommend you check out Lian Dolan of the Chaos Chronicles ( Her theme for 2010 was “Let ‘er Rip.” Basically, this mom of two said Yes to every professional opportunity that crossed her path, and stepped out of her comfort zone to create opportunity. Highlights were a published novel and a TV pilot. Check out her summary article at – (I’m not on her payroll, I’m just a fan of both of you.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Ok, off I go!

      • I will look at the chaos chronicles, too – I have been trying something similar in my personal life. When someone says “Want to go with me to…” or “You should really try X, it’s amazing!” I say yes. I go with them. Or I try it. I have really had some wonderful experiences as a result of it. Even a couple of the clunkers have been interesting from the perspective of giving me insight into the person who made the suggestion.

        I’ve also tried Yes in my work life. Instead of disagreeing or offering an alternative, I try to express enthusiasm for someone else’s idea and then offer my own. As in, “Yes, that’s super, and we could also do Y!” This often leads the other person building Y into the plan also. It’s amazing how much more people want to share their ideas if you say Yes, and.

  • Nicole Hindes

    A few years ago, when I was going into a job search, I lived “possibility.” I explored a bunch of different options (in all areas of my life) and just looked at the sheer vastness of options that are out there.

    Last year, I lived “connection” in an attempt to prioritize people in my new living environment and as a push to connect with them.

    Next year, I’m going to live “growth” and seek out individuals and experiences that are growth-focused.

  • Teresa

    Patience, Consistency, and Rest!

  • Timaree (freebird)

    This past year my word was gratitude. That’s the word my logical, conscious side chose. The first word that had popped into my head thought was cocoon. I didn’t choose it thinking it was silly but several times during the year things happened to let me know that really was my word. So if a word pops up it should be taken in my opinion even if it sounds silly. My subconscious knew just what I needed! And I am grateful to realize that, lol.

  • Lorna

    I love new years planning too. We review our year, pick the highs and lows, then schedule the next year based on that. Words we’ve used as annual themes in the past: Boundaries, Love, Investments, Upgrades, Fun, Fine-tuning.

    • gretchenrubin

      Very evocative ideas.

  • I LOVE this! I went off the “New Year’s Resolutions” cliche/trap many years ago, and have been substituting a motto ever since.

    I haven’t come up with one for 2011 yet (it’s too early!), but this year’s was “Work It.” (Yeah, I leave them open to interpretation a bit.)

  • Fenner Kb


    I am enjoying lightening my load, and I find it really does make me happier!

  • Jill

    My word for next year will be “focus.”
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who is afraid of driving. I actually have a driver’s license, but I got it when I was 23 and now that I leave in D.C. I absolutely positively refuse to to drive. My family is from the Midwest and most of them think I’m crazy. It’s actually helped my happiness, for what it’s worth!

    • I can definitely relate. But in my situation, I’ve never lived in a large area like D.C. with convenient public transportation. So I got over my fear by necessity, and now I’m probably as a good a driver as most people (and I’ve never had an accident).

  • Persistence – I know what will make me happy but I get scared of succeeding and fall into ruts when I could be out doing the things that I really want deep down. I am a great starter & get a huge thrill from new changes but I have trouble with not dropping things in the middle of longer term projects. Just keeping on with what inspires me and keeping that energy and freshness for the long haul is my big project for the future.

  • Sarahklepzig

    Love this post….you’ve given me an idea…I’m going to come up with 12 words and try one a month and see where each month takes me. It seems like one resolution/month can really limit your potential, but one word can apply to so many areas of your life. Your post sparked this idea, so thanks! I just finished your book…great read.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love making resolutions, but this one-word approach is really compelling

  • Max

    A very nice alternative to the inevitably-doomed-by-3rd-Jan shopping lists that too many of us (cough cough ME) are inclined to make.

    Reminds me also of a family tradition of some old friends of ours, using “Angel Cards”, which we’ve adopted for the last ten years. You have a set of cards (Google “Angel Cards” to find them) with qualities like Honesty, Relationships, Kindness etc on them. Their tradition was that you all drew one out of a bowl on New Year’s Eve and that “Angel” would be your inspiration for the year. (They were broadminded enough to insist that you shcould interpret it however you wanted to. I’ve since come across a lot of woo-woo rubbish written about these cards, bestowing them with ridiculous magical properties. Glad I hadn’t seen all that before!) Yours is a more deliberate approach to that way of seeking inspiration for the year ahead. Great idea, particularly the discipline of choosing ONLY ONE WORD (and no cheating). What a lovely idea. Very Gretchen!

  • Avery Boyce

    I make my resolutions on my birthday instead of the new year. Since it’s in June the new year acts as a reminder for me to check in and see how I’m doing. My word for the year of 31 is “Motion” – I’ve ended a career, moved to a new city, traveled by myself in Ecuador and went from couch potato to 10k-er. Coming up I’ll go to Chile, run a half marathon and a 21 mile race, and maybe start a new career!

    It’s been really helpful to have a word – even just to remind me that the word isn’t Friends or Money or whatever else could use some improvement. Big changes require sustained effort.

    I’d suggest for your “Bigger” word that you think of some amazing goal achievement and just be like “this, by the end of 2011”. I find everything else falls into place around that usually.

  • Perspective


    2011 would be a good year to be proactive about better physical and mental fitness. I’ve grown too comfortable with too much weight and too much cynicism and negativity. Time to move on. Time to re-engage more positive activities.

  • For the past couple of years I’ve picked a theme for the New Year. I’ve already got mine picked for 2011 “Thrive instead of Survive” or just “Thrive.” This past year it was “Getting a Clue” and the year before “Getting my Ducks in a Row.”

    • Lindpasi48

      Please tell how you got your ducks in a row and getting a clue, I think I have a clue but I need more information on how to Thrive instead of Survive. I am very serious and feel very desperate so help!!!

    • Well, there’s another good one for me to think about. I feel like I’ve just been surviving for years now and I would so like to thrive.

  • Amy

    I was thinking free or freedom as I read your post but not for the same reasons as your friend. I also liked what one commenter posted. “connection”. I need to give this more thought but I have some to start with at least.

  • Tricia

    One year as we were sunning ourselves on the beach in Sydney, we made our New Year’s Resolutions: “Style, fun and equanimity.” When we got home my husband had hepatitis, I got it from him, and we lost our business to a hostile takeover while we were convalescing. It has taken me a while to try resolutions and affirmations again!

    Three years later, with a new business and our health back, my husband suggested that the best way to celebrate was to have another baby, who has been nothing but a joy to us all. I recommend it! (he is twenty-four now)…

    • gretchenrubin

      What a story! I love it.

  • Missy

    My favorite, from a few years ago, was “ask for help (even, and especially, when I think I don’t *really* need it).”

    This year? “Nourish”.

  • Kristin

    Let go (ok, that’s 2 words)

    What a great idea. I need to figure out what mine will be…

  • tarasophia

    Hey Gretchen,
    I love this. Just wrote a post about one of my favorite tools for helping myself and my clients think “bigger” – you might find it useful as you move forward with your theme for 2011 –
    Enjoy your posts, always, and happy to be one of the reverb10 authors with you!

  • Sherilee

    Last year (2009) was the first year I’d ever heard this concept batted around, and I did a lot of thinking and pondering what my “word” would be, and didn’t settle on one until probably a quarter into the year when it occurred to me that Pause would be a great theme/reminder/prompt, and it has been. I’ve returned to it over and over. Looking forward to trying the concept again… thanks for the reminder!

  • It’s hard to sum up what my theme would be in one word. I have so many things I need and/or want to do. I have things in my life that have to change in order to move forward and reach goals I have set for myself. Maybe that would be the word, “GOALS” OR MAYBE “CHANGE”. I guess I’ll figure out which one by January.

  • Wow! I love this idea!!

  • Jessica

    I actually do this every year. My birthday is always the start day for my “new year’s” resolutions. Each year as I reflect on the year past, I see the next year as a chapter of life to write. I write a FB note or something of the like usually outlining my intension for the year, and each chapter is titled with one word. I’m currently working on Chapter 29: Love.

  • Anoel

    It’s funny, usually I think back on year’s past and come up with a way to describe it (The Year of _) but this year I know what I want to work on and it is perfectly summed up in one word: Habit. So much of my life, I’ve skated by or messed up without setting good habits and I want to focus on working on doing things every day (or when I mess up, doing it the next day). Recording all of these daily tasks down and being able to check mark them has helped me these last few months when a couple moves have thrown me off track and I want to continue that now that I’m in a more stable place. Even if it’s just run a half hour right when I wake up in the morning or spend 15 minutes learning a new program, it helps remembering that I’m working on doing these things not just because it’s what I want to do but because I’m working on a higher year/life purpose of creating good habits.

  • I choose “play.” With two sets of twins under age 5, life gets pretty intense and most of the time I feel like I’m just surviving. But when I take a break to enjoy the moment, play with my kids and give them what they need, life seems so much happier & more manageable.

  • supernalsteve

    Thanks Gretchen. I’ve never started the year with a ‘theme’ – what a great idea – for me 2011 is going to be about change – so that’s the word/theme for me.

    My usual habit at the start of the New Year is to write down all the things I want to do/achieve etc. – I then put that list away (in a handy pocket at the back of my diary) and don’t look at it again until the end of the year. It’s amazing how many items actually happen (in one form or another..).

    Great post!

  • Alana in Canada

    Hi Gretchen. It’s finally my turn to read your book from the library. (The reqiest list was quite long!) I just finished April–you are really quite inspiring, you know. Thank you.

    About the word: I know of two other initiatives along these lines. One showed up just a few days ago as part of Gwen Bell’s reverb project. You might want to have a look: it seems to be for writers…
    The second place is at Ali Edwards’ blog. She did this last year–and lots of folks out here in blogland joined her then. It’s a great place to find more ideas and ponderings if you’d like to do that.

    I think I may just try my own happiness project next year. Sustaining myself for a whole year may prove to be a fair challenge though–so I’m glad your doing “bigger.” Somehow that puts me in mind of you holding a great big golf umbrella–and me scuttling in underneath it with you.

    • L

      My sister loves Ali Edwards! I knew I had heard of this one-word-resolution thing before! I tend to be more verbose than one word…. this is food for thought.

    • Tracy

      Are you participating in Ali’s year long class at BPC (Big Picture Classes)?

  • This is so fun! I had already decided that instead of having any specific goals for the year, I would have one overlying intention to apply to all I do. A theme, as you put it.

    So my theme is ALLOWING. I’ve spent to much time getting in the way of the flow of good things into my life. I intend to allow it to flow. And I’m ready!! 🙂

  • I did this in 2010, I picked the word PEACE, because that’s what I was craving most: peaceful home, peace with myself, peaceful working… I didn’t follow the monthly “resolutions” I planned, though, so I’m starting to think of another way to make this “year word” concrete.

  • I LOVE this, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I have linked with this on my offering today because it is such a neat idea for those of us who allow more detailed resolutions fall away, and those who just never try to change anything because resolutions don’t work for them.

    Unfortunately, I need time to settle on just 1 concept that I could focus on, so I can’t give you my word yet.

  • Peninith1

    Could mine be DETAILS? I tend to be vague, nebulous, big picturish and to want to ignore the details that make a quilt project complete, a money issue well managed, a room calm and welcoming, and so forth. If you ignore routines and details, plants die if you don’t water them, your checkbook gets out of whack, clutter piles up. I don’t mean to spend a year sweating the small stuff, but to pay closer attention to what’s right under my nose, to learning how to be more skilful, to using what I have creatively down to the last scrap, to taking care of business about things I am too likely to airily ignore. I think this one would be open to a monthly focus, as well. I think about it as detailing my life the way you would ‘detail’ a car to make it all shiny-new looking. Yep, DETAILS is my word.

  • Tracy

    Hi Gretchen,
    I have done this for many years and love it. My word for this year is accomplishment. Lots of long term projects are hanging around that I want to move to completion in 2011. Great post.

  • Ann

    This year my word is “Adventure”. I plan to do a lot of travelling. Sometimes with my family and sometimes with friends. So far on my list, Cabos, London, Paris, Grenada, Tuscany, Florence and Cortona. Let the games begin!

  • Abby

    Every month I choose a meaningful-to-me quote that I use as a tag line for my emails and try to live up to it for a month, but what a good idea to select one word for inspiration for the whole year! I think my word will be SMILE! because I’m too serious most of the time, and a smile can lighten the world around me.
    Thank you Gretchen, you are truly an inspiration!

  • I really like this idea, thanks for posting it! I’ve done something similar on a weekly basis and its amazing how it can make you react differently to situations and opportunities – it can really take you out of your comfort zone. For the year, mine would be ‘action’.

    Just another thought, why wait until New Year, why not get a head start today?

  • Steph

    This is great. I had never thought of doing something like this. It reminds me a little bit of a recent post by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. He wrote about achieving without goals, with the basic idea being to follow your bliss without scripting it (with the key being to keep on hooking into your bliss). To me your idea is very similar, in that you’re proposing to zone in on something that you know in your heart of hearts you want to give priority over a period of time. I like that the parameters aren’t very well-defined (well, apart from the 2011 thing :)).

    I often have too many ideas in my mind to make them all practicable. I could choose several words for next year. The big thing in my life that is driving me crazy right now, however, is the gap between my real life and my love. My love lives on another continent, where he is the caregiver for his aging parents, and I respect that priority in his life. I would do the same were my parents in a situation to require that, but my father has already passed away and my mother is young, healthy, financially secure and independent. She’d never allow me to care for her. 🙂

    My problem is that I have a great life. I’ve finally got all of my ducks in line, so to speak. I have a great career. The problem is that my career isn’t very portable to where he lives (different language, culture, bureacracy).

    I’ve made radical changes in my life before – moved to other parts of the world and changed careers, followed unconventional paths – but I sort of made a decision in my mid-30s that I’d become “normal.” 🙂

    The fundamental problem at the moment – and I apologize for the long approach to the punchline – is that I can’t think my way out of this one. I can’t envision what I would do if I moved there. I’ve become too comfortable in my life and too safe in my decision-making. At the same time, I feel intuitively that I will regret it if I don’t live this out. I’m a smart and creative person with a good education and if I could just break through that sense that everything is decided and as it must be in my working life…

    I could choose any number of words to reflect what I’d like next year to be. Maybe “bold.” Maybe “leap.” Maybe “free fall.” Maybe “trust.” This is good…

    Thanks! PS What is bigger than a film made of your book? 😉

    • Jenny

      Go for “trust” and I bet the answer will come!

      • Steph

        Thanks. 🙂

  • Sarah

    I have already picked mine out: Courage

  • Mpahope

    What a great idea – to frame my desires/ambition for 2011. Yours is Bigger, mine could be Stronger, that is to make a stronger effort with the creative project I discovered this year. Thanks to your advice, Gretchen, two months ago I started to make assemblages of clip art on blank greeting cards. My adult daughter is pushing me to sell them in upscale shops. In January I plan to go into the business community and find a market for them. That part of it will require salesmanship, a large stumbling block when you’re over 70. I’ve got to put on my makeup and think positively.

    Like you, I am a timid driver and started driving long after I left New York. But next year I’m going to think “Stronger.”

  • Courtney

    Yes, I have done this with considerable success before. My word for both 09 and 10 was enjoy because I wanted to enjoy my time with my newborn son.

    This year, I think I’m going to choose “Have Fun” which, at two words, is cheating a bit but I don’t think “Fun” alone conveys it. I want to create a sense of fun with my son and husband as I have a tendency to get too caught up in work and drudgery. We’re trying to have a sensational Sunday-funday every weekend from now on.

  • Ann


    To put social networking and blog reading in their proper places in my life and to return to old-fashioned work habits (like get to the office and “get to work”) to improve my personal productivity. Then, maybe, I can “convince” my staff of the importance of working at work. haha

  • Jenny

    This year my word was ENOUGH. I have a bad habit of always comparing myself to everyone else so I was focusing on reminding myself that I have ENOUGH–money, time, house, etc. It was working well the first few months of the year, when (not coincidentally) I was checking off my HP boxes. Then I got busy and overwhelmed and lost my focus. But now, with the holiday stress and drama at hand, I am back to trying to center and focus on ENOUGH!

    Next year, I’m thinking of: Lighten Up! Always being told I’m too serious and a worrier so I’m going to try to relax and laugh more.

  • Susan

    Great idea, Gretchen. (Julie Morgenstern, who you have interviewed, suggests the idea of choosing a theme for the next phase of your life – although not necessarily one word – in SHED Your Stuff, Change your Life.). I am thinking my word /theme for 2011 will be Action. There are certain areas of my life that have needed improvement for some time, and while I have made some progress I want to focus more on taking concrete steps to make bigger changes. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • What a great idea to have a theme for the year!

    By the way, I’m glad I’m not the only who once struggled with a fear of driving. (I was an unusually cautious teenager.)

  • Sunshine

    I really like this idea. I think the “theme word” can be compatible with a series of specific resolutions, but the nice thing is since you can’t “break” the “theme” you won’t be as tempted to give up completely after one setback as is often the case with traditional New Year’s resolutions. Instead, you can re-focus on your theme anytime!

    Here are the potential words that sprang to my mind for this year in my life. They are all closely related with subtly different shadings.

    (which points towards listening and investing in other people, being open to new ideas, and carefully attuning myself to what is around me)
    (which for me points towards doing one thing at a time and working with intensity, as well as lavishing focused attention on my loved ones
    (which for me points towards “do it now,” and anti-procrastination, and towards paying attention to the people & task right in front of me.)

  • Kristin

    I don’t have a phrase for 2011 yet, but I’ve been very successful with my “No cookies until Christmas,” which I adopted Oct. 1, after spending a week eating more dreadful cookies than I could bear to think about. I haven’t eaten a cookie, and I don’t plan to eat any cookies until Christmas day (and I’ve lost 7 pounds!)

    My motto for 2003 was “Worry-free in 2003”–I was trying not to fret so much.

  • The Contrarian

    How about “Contrarianism”?

    We all would be far happier and much better off if we could cultivate the habit of being ourselves.

    In a world where good folks are trying to be other folks, what a refreshing sight to behold when we find someone trying to be themselves!

    We are born original, but most die a copy.

  • Lynnel

    I am thinking “Order”. Your post Wednesday spoke so much to me because I live in a state of worry someone will nominate me for Clean House or Hoarders or something! If getting my life in order physically was a priority this year, I think it would also work mentally and spiritually as well…

  • The only people who don’t LOVE resolutions are people are dissapoint themselves time and time again. These are the same people who do not set goals, do not measure, and do not set milestones. The can’t commit. They are probably pretty broke too lol! (yes…ME…until now). I like the one-word theme for the year. I like FOCUS. I like FAITH. I guess I gotta choose one. Can I have 5?

  • Karen

    I really like this idea too, and have been giving it a lot of thought. I have trouble with that “Be Karen” concept, so at first, was drawn to that. Thought about “True”, “Real”, “Honest” and similar such words. Then I realized that my real problem is fear. So my work for 2011 is “Strength.” I am going to be strong in the face of fear. It’s a good word that applies to so many areas of life. I think this will be good for me. Thanks!

  • Stacey

    I’ve chosen a “Word of the Year” for the last several years and I’ve loved using it as a touchstone and a call to action. 2008 was Rejoice, 2009 was Courage and 2010 was Freedom. I haven’t decided on my word for 2011 yet, but I’ll let you know when I do!

    • gretchenrubin

      I especially love “Rejoice.”

  • I’ve just discovered the same idea via which let’s you sum up the past year in one word and choose one for the next.

    I’d like my word for next year to be “travel”. Literally, I’d like to travel back to South Africa (where I’m from) and maybe to New Zealand or England. I’d also like to see other parts of Australia (where I currently live) such as Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

    Travelling also fits in with my goal of running to keep fit which is an ongoing goal the more improve.

    Figuratively I’d like to travel in the sense that I’d like to travel as a person. When one travels, one discovers and grows, and I’d like to discover more about myself next year and grow more as me next year.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, this is a WONDERFUL site! I’m going to post about it tomorrow! Check it

  • I truly treasure my ideas. My theme would be about REWORK.
    And thanks for igniting our spirits. Cheers to Happiness Project!

  • Karenlw

    My word of the year for 2010 was “move”–move on, move out, move forward. It was helpful to have that one, overarching work to serve as a framework for my decisions.

    I decided upon my word after using Christine Kane’s Word of the Year Discovery Tool available for free download on her blog.

    For 2011, I think one of the possibilities is “transformation”. I would really rather have “progress”. But I think that more transformation is going to be required of me in order to proceed.

    • Sher

      I also want to recommend Christine Kane’s “Word of the Year” tool on her blog. I used it last year and it worked wonderfully. I’m ready to use it again for 2011.

  • Deb

    As I am in my third year of widowhood and the last two have been “survive” and then “new” I think I am ready for “organize” in every facet of my life, get back to organized living and not this willy nilly of roller coaster emotions…thanks for giving me a ” kick” to decide on 2011 and my goals…love this place!!!

  • Just joined REVERB10 , a 30-day online challenge to “reflect on this year and manifest what’s next.” It begins with a very similar prompt, which is to choose one word that captures 2010 … and then choose the word you would like to capture 2011. Seems hard, but the words came to my mind immediately.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, such a great project! Check it out everyone.

      • And so today (Monday) I receive the REVERB10 prompt … by none other than you, Gretchen! I should have known you would be a part of such a wonderful project.

  • L.M.

    For me, I think I might choose “refurbish” – taking what’s already there and transforming it into something better, brighter, and more appealing. I remember my mom finding an old beat-up table at a flea market. It was so easy to overlook and pass by. With some tender care, she sanded it down, refinished it, and turned it into a great table to gather around for meals at our lake cabin.

  • MaGeezy

    This is great and simple. I’ve never thought about it before but just using one word could be truly powerful as it increases focus and clarity of purpose. I love it. I had to sleep on it before I can think of a theme that feels just right for me.

    My theme would be: Action!

    I would definitely need “action!” to back all my ideas and make my dreams a reality.

  • Grantparish


  • Doug

    I think I’d be better off picking one word PER MONTH to set the tone (as you did with the actual “Happiness Project”), as that would allow me to accomplish more (12 things!) for the year, plus it seems rather ominous to have a yearlong tone.

  • Cam

    My theme would be “BALANCE.”

  • I think my word would have to be peaceful. After a year of overwork, burnout and mental meltdown, peaceful is definitely what I want to work towards for next year!

  • I spent all weekend thinking this through and this is my blog-post about it.

    The word is SMALL – focussing on the small things/now not just the big picture and making myself smaller – eek!

    Thanks for inspiring me.

  • I really like this idea, and it’s somewhat what I’m working on in my personal life. Stick around and join my blog at I’m not quite sure what my word is just yet. But I’ll join in the journey.

  • My word for the year is “meditation”. I’ve figured out that if my mind is full of fear, anger, or any other negative emotion, then I cannot be happy no matter where I am, so this is the year I train my mind to be in control of random thoughts, and to focus on love, kindness, and happiness.

  • aphelion

    Inspired by this post, I’ve decided to choose a theme as well. My theme for the new year is “Love”. That’s because I’ve spent the major part of my life whining about how no one ever loves me!! As a result I’ve successfully driven away from me, many of my close friends and family. This is my attempt at salvaging the ones that are left, the ones who have still not given up on me.

    Any tips on how to begin?

    • brightycolors

      be loving toward them–be who they need you to be, really listen to what they say and how their actions speak also.

  • Diana

    Love this. I will pick Body. As in, taking better care of my body.

  • Amanda

    Love this and I know exactly what my one word is: slower. I do everything too fast and impatiently and it makes me cranky with my kids when I shouldn’t be, leads to mistakes at work, and makes me rush around instead of taking the time to enjoy myself and be aware of what’s around me.

  • My 2010 theme was “convergence,” and my 2011 theme is “intention.”

  • Isabel

    this is brilliant.

    I have done this for “months.” where i have set goals for individuals months. I have also had “chapters in my life” which usually last around 5 years. During these chapters, I accomplished different things and I only realized that they were chapters after i had closed them.

    but, i have never *set* a theme for individual years.

    I love love love this!

    • gretchenrubin

      I love the idea of five year chapters! It’s a helpful way to think about the
      stages of life.

  • I did this for the first time this year. My word was “open,” because I wanted to open myself to new possibilities, to stop saying, “No, I can’t.” I did not spend very much time thinking about my word of the year, though, and I think I would have been better served reminding myself of it every month and considering how it had affected me. I may do it again in 2011, but I don’t know what my word will be yet. “Open” dropped into my lap, so I wouldn’t be surprised it that happens again.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, I think a key to having a one-word theme is to figure out ways to think
      about it often — so that it really permeates your attitude toward the year.

  • Holly

    This is a fabulous idea! I read this post a few hours ago and had to think for a little while before coming up with my words.

    For 2010, my theme has definitely been “Create”. I’ve gotten really into knitting, and I’m just putting the finishing touches on a really cool lamp that I welded for a class.

    For 2011, I want to focus on “Delight”. I tend to get bogged down in negative emotions and stress, so I want to consciously choose to delight in the things that make me happy. Hopefully this will leave less room for moping!

    Gretchen, thanks for this post – fantastic as usual!

  • momof5

    Thought about this all weekend, and I’m going with “Reach.” (Like a previous poster, I’m starting now!)

    What I like about the idea, in addition to the fact that it’s not a list of resolutions that I’ll have abandoned by Day 2, is that it works so many different ways. Wondering about taking on that new project? Reach for it. Why is my house always a mess, even when I feel like I’m working overtime to stay on top of it? Reach (with a clean mop to get that cobweb in the corner – how do they get there so fast?).

    I’d been thinking more like “stretch,” but that doesn’t hold the same sense of reaching out to people, and opening the newspaper Sunday to find the obituary of someone I’d been meaning to call – well, reaching out to neighbors and friends, even when there are too many other things on the to-do list, is key.

    Love reading everybody’s ideas!

  • It took me a couple of days of thinking about it before I came up with my 1 word theme. But it is perfect for me. The word is…NOW!

    Don’t hold onto past hurts, start fresh NOW! Don’t live in the future, notice and apreciate the life I have NOW! Stop procrastinating, just do it NOW! while the problem/mess is still manageable.

    In fact, I’m not going to wait for New Years, I’m gonna start NOW!

    Thanks ever so much.

  • Juhli

    My word is Dive. After 2 years of health problems and subsequent recovery time I am ready to Dive into things. I also need to overcome my natural tendency to perfectionism, over thinking decisions and reluctance to increase my commitments. I feel really healthy now and ready to take on new challenges so I am going to Dive figuratively and literally (buying that summer pool membership now at a savings!).

  • Arina Nikitina

    Mine is *SHINE*. From within I’d keep myself fueled so that in my own simple ways, I could emit light and luster upon others. I desire to *SHINE* as a person so I could see better from all directions. I wish to *SHINE* for others, if it means their view gets better. 🙂

    This was a challenge, Gretch. 🙂 I had to write down a few words, more phrases, just so I could come up with just one word. Whew. But so glad I took the time. It was a revelation, a pleasant one. Thanks!

  • I like this a lot… and as I start to think about it, it makes me realize the complexity of picking one word, esp. when life seems to be going in different directions (for instance, I was tempted to say ‘simplify’, but I can think of things I might want to add to my life that would work against this in some ways). Giving this some real thought is a good personal exercise.

  • I love this concept. I would be the opposite of you – mine would be SIMPLIFY. Either that or REFLECT – I need to take more time to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

  • Laura G

    My word is AUTHENTICITY.
    I choose to be more authentic, to honor myself, who I am, how I got here, and where I am going. I choose to slow down, enjoy my life and my children. Be the woman God wants me to be. Be comfortable with who I am, and at peace with what brought me here.

  • Hi Gretchen,

    Interesting idea indeed – thanks for sharing with us!

    All righty, if I were to choose a word for next year, I’d go for CREATE. Will slap a post-in on my fridge so I keep this under my nose every day of the year 😉

  • Penelope

    My word is “Trust.” Someone once said “When you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” (Goethe?)

  • @elizabethcraft

    OK, Gretch. If your theme is “bigger,” I may have to go with “smaller.” It’s time to lose the baby weight. But I’m not going to commit until I think of how “smaller” could apply to other aspects of life. Dieting alone is too mundane…

    (And thanks for the shout out!)

    • gretchenrubin

      I love the idea of “Smaller” and all the things it could encompass! The
      opposite of a great truth is also true, and it’s funny to me how often one
      terrific resolution is paired with an equally great but opposite resolution:

      Bigger. Smaller.
      Now. Wait.
      Just say “no.” Just say “yes.”
      Move. Stay still.

      • Kelch

        I am loving this conversation! I will be spending the rest of the day pondering on my word for the year. What jumped out at me upon reflection was MOVE, which, to me, includes exercise, personal growth, avoiding entrenchment in habits, and relocating.

        After your last comment with all the word pairs, I’m thinking that I will actually come up with two words that are opposites. MOVE and STILL will help me achieve balance by helping me think about when it is time to do which.

        Thanks again to everyone for your posts, and HAPPY New Year!!!

        • gretchenrubin

          I love that word pair. Fabulous! So thought-producing — and

  • Rebecca J. Faught

    Gretchen, first of all, thank you for making my 2010 a better year! I bought your book on my Kindle (which I received for Christmas from my dad in hopes of keeping clutter down) and read all of your posts here. As for 2011, I feel the word “achieve” is best for me. I have been looking for a job for all of 2010, but was able to write a novel (thanks to your suggestion of “No Plot, No Problem”), meet a lot of new people (in part thanks to your suggestion of joining groups), and now have a couple of interviews lined up before year end. I will achieve what I set out to and I appreciate your wonderful writing that continues to encourage me.

    Here’s to an excellent “achieving” 2011!!!!

  • left coaster

    Re: “Finally Breaking Old Bad Behaviors” might be distilled into “Free.”

    or to really personalize it (“Free” is such an elastic concept) how about “Dehabit” ? (Alternatively: “De-Habit”)
    Admittedly not a real word, but a more solid anchor for the resolution, and I’m partial to the personal, tailor-made, and idiosyncratic.

    By the second paragraph I selected “Simplify” but as I gave it more thought it morphed into an Art Deco vision: “Streamline”

    Best wishes for Hanu Chris Solis Kwan Rama Krisna to all ….

  • Annebalance

    2011 will be the Year of Light & Lightness for me in DC

    2010 was BalanceLife!

    Thanks Gretchin for “Being Gretchin”

    Annie “be annie”

  • Shannon


  • QuiteLight

    2 seconds into this post, “Joy!” leapt into my mind. So apparently I have a theme!

    Isn’t it a great one?! I’m suddenly excited about what was looking like a very challenging year!

  • Faith White

    My 1 word theme for 2011 is Focus.

  • Gina


  • Imrunn4mylife

    I think my one word theme for the new year will be CONSISTENCY. I have a habit is going gung ho into things and then stopping. Whether it be keeping a clean house or losing weight, I start out running, slow to a jog, then a walk, crawl and stop (I’ll start again later.). CONSISTENCY is my word.

  • Maxi

    Letting go.

    Two words. Big meaning for me.

    To be less controlling, not always trying to change people. Or events.

    To be accepting of the present moment, people as they are, letting go of my expectation that the world will rearrange itself to suit me if I stress about it hard enough. Or pester people hard enough.

    To want what I want but letting go of the outcome after I have done all I can about it. REEEEEALy Hard for me,

  • Joless

    I think mine needs to be PATIENCE as we have some major house renovations planned for 2011 and I am so looking forward to it all being finished but it’s going to take time and hard work before that can happen. I also want to learn some new skills and that takes time and patience too.

  • kathy

    I would like to focus less on myself and so I have chosen the word “serve.”

    • gretchenrubin

      That is a terrific theme.

  • Teriannk

    My word would have to be “mindfulness”. That word has been popping up everywhere for me. It could mean so many things like: staying in the now, knowing your impact, or being aware. I’m sure I will discover new meanings as the year progresses.

  • Deast15


  • Meister31


  • Debster

    Fun. I am going to have more fun this year. I am retiring from the public school system June 15, but I am not waiting until then to start having more fun in my life. Happy New Year, one and all!

  • jhf


  • Pdrane56

    I choose “finish”. I start many things but have trouble finishing one before moving on. I know I would be happier if I would finish things rather than leave them in a state of partial completion. It may also help me realize there are things I don’t even want to start.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love all these one-word themes. maybe I’ll do a round-up post, they are
      all so thought-provoking…

    • Lacoppa629

      I can so identify with that. I also have many “ufos” (unfinished objects) around my house. “finish” as my one word theme would help me relieve stress and “stress-free” was my main goal for the new year! thanks for the thought -one word that does 2 things!

  • Diannmar

    my one word for 2011 would be ACCEPTANCE

  • Gblam2003

    My word this year is “Create” I want to be more creative in everything and try new creative avenues that I have never tried before.

    Great topic Gretchen!

  • Ewhit

    Sorry, can’t get it down to one – ‘Obsess less’ – about relationships, about to do lists, about the future, about the past …

  • Heidi

    Last year, instead of a resolution, I decided to focus on “undertanding”…as I look back I think it helped me realize and accept some things I may not of otherwise seen…this year, so far the words that keep coming to are patience, and freedom…I like freedom because it’s a broad word, where patience is too defining…but since they both jump out at me, I’ll just see how they form me in 2011.

  • Kate

    I choose “Let Go”. There are a lot of things in my life that if I just let go of them, things would become instantly easier. Let go of fear, perfection, over indulgence. It should be a wild ride. Happy New Year!

  • Beevil

    Mine is “No”……. no more stuff, no more junk food, no more expecting too much of myself…. like Nancy Regan”s “just say No” campaign…

  • Diana


    I saw the following quote somewhere: “forbearance is the key to a happy home”; and I think it is so true – not just at home, but in many areas of life. It’s about accepting people as they are, and just loving them anyway.

  • Leauriy

    My One Little Word is HAPPYNESS ( spelled this was because i makes me Happy/smile). I’m taking Ali Edwards’ One Little Word Journey Class at Big Picture Classes. Last year my word was CHANGE and Happy kept coming up as a result, so i’m heeding this occurrence. I will strive to notice or allow or intend to BE Happyness in my; Home Life, Work Life, Vitality, Creativity, Relationships, Family, Outlook and MySelf.
    I also think that letting go of FEAR will have to be an ongoing intention for the year because it may just be the opposite of HAPPYNESS, for me. ( I’m also looking at letting go of anger for the same reason). I have my work cut out for me. ; )

  • dearpru


  • Balance. I simply can’t think of anything I want more.

    Is it achievable? No idea. But I’m going to try!



  • Kkananic

    My word for 2011 is Less. Less weight, less worry, less clutter!

  • The word is clarity. I wanted to start the new year completely clear, free of all that ” stuff ” – that “stuff” that holds you down, keeps you stuck in a moment, and afraid of being authentically you. I started 2011 sober, clearheaded, with just a little bit of ordinary joy…. I just really hope that like Gretchen, we all can have a community that helps one another.

  • Kris


    Time to do everything I read about and plan to do. Enough- it’s time to do!
    Also, refers to doing experiences, not buying anymore stuff. Taking a real break from the daily life to just enjoy each other….lots can go into the word, Enough.

  • Kimberly


    I will put this word up at my desk and remind myself that my decisions and behaviors this year will be HEALTHY ones.

    Not only will I make healthy decisions regarding eating and exercising, but I will also make healthy decisions for my life in general. I will think before I read, before I watch TV, before accepting invitations – before deciding how to spend my time – by the hour and by the day. Before making decisions or taking action, I will ask myself, will this make me a healthier person in body, mind AND soul?!

    If I feel healthier and am spending my time doing things that bring my and my family joy, then I will be a stronger, kinder, more patient and more fun person.

    PS Dance parties with my children are healthy! 🙂

  • Sharonatlast

    2 words:

    First is “Hug”. It is to remind me, everyday in 2011, to be empathetic and supportive of myself and my spouse and to let go of the small stuff like resentment from petty disagreements. The action of hugging can be as small as a glance to say “It’s okay. I know you’ve had a hard day.” or as large as a big warm hug! It can remind me that I may need a hug on a hard day too and that I can ask for one.

    Second is “Freedom”. I want to free-up my brain time by getting rid of wasteful worry. With my new brain time, I want to focus myself on my priorities.

  • pauline

    My one word to help me in 2011 is Optimism

  • graphoman


  • Impossible.

    Because I value balance and peace so much, like you, I have a tendency to keep things simple. But I feel like this is the year to have faith that the seemingly “impossible” can and will happen in 2011.

    To the first week of a new life!
    Elizabeth Grace

  • Noisyboys

    I’ve been thinking about my word and I’ve finally decided on Effort. Almost everything I’d like to change or improve this year is within my reach if I put forth the required Effort. I’m going to go so far at to order a custom stamped silver ring from with my word, so I’ll be reminded all year long. (Although the word “effort” isn’t that cute no matter what font I choose, I may go with the Italian “sforzo” so it will at least look stylish….)

  • Kathy

    Peace. I want to be bothered by nothing. I want the world to stop killing each other.

  • Shelleymck


    “To fully appreciate; to enjoy, relish.”

    I want to savor the moments.

  • Mj

    Adventurous. Trying new things, going new places, writing new topics, everything in life can have the excitment of a new adventure.

  • My word is “betterment,” and I’ve just developed a blog around it: (giving credit to you!).

  • Tracyberge

    My one word theme is BELIEVE…

    Believe the best is yet to be,
    Believe in the goodness of others,
    Believe that today’s challenges makes me stronger,
    Believe in all the possibilites that each new day brings.

  • Kathleen Keys


    I want to get them, but more importantly, I want to give them. I want to have the gumpsion to seek truth in my intentions and express that in an answer other than ” I don’t know or I don’t mind”

  • Rob

    CLARITY & the Beginning of the Year of Balance are my themes for the year. I start with the overall concept and then am working out the goals from there.

  • Scrappnsue

    My word is FINISH . I start many projects with great enthusiasm , then I run out of steam and don’t finish. These were great ideas that I had a fear of actually finishing.

  • Twirl

  • Rottosen

    I choose to strive to be more genuine as my goal for 2011. So genuine is my word for this year. I would like to work on being sure the things I do and say are congruent with the what I profess to believe.

  • catseye

    I finally decided on my word for 2011. It just popped into my head a few days ago and I think it fits the year ahead perfectly – Breathe. I need to stop overreacting to people, events and problems as if they were life and death situations. I need to catch my mental and emotional breath, so to speak, and see things for what they are and not blow them out of proportion.
    This will be really important for me to remember this year because I’ll find out if I still have a job in September. Stressing out about it won’t change anything and will just drive me crazy. Breathe.

  • Jkinfo


  • Sandi


    A little less conversation, a little more ACTION – Elvis summed it up years ago !! Stop talking about things and just DO them !!!

  • Acetchmt


  • Poise – it’s time to crawl out of my cave and piles of excuses and misgivings and shine! I am totally ready for the year of the black water dragon!

  • Stephanie at UpLifting Words ( is hosting One Word Wednesday. We can each share what the Lord is teaching us about the word we have selected. Mine is Contentment. Come join along!

  • Summer

    Last year’s word was Edit as was 2011. I bring a word forward if it is still in play. I edited my red room, kitchen and butlers pantry. Completely emptied, remodeled, and kept only my favorite things. This year will be the dining room and linen room. I also edited closets, books,clothes etc…freeing!
    I am in the process of changing a secondary word for this year. Told all my friens about one word and they love it.

  • Ed

    Hope. With how dis functional the country’s leaders are. I am still looking at a glass that is half full.

  • Celine Shinbutsu

    Walk. As in simple daily exercise.

  • Suzanne

    Mindfulness. This is why: Every day of every month of every year (except when on vaca) I am a crazy time-keeping fool. I wish to live more in the moment, not racing ahead or looking back. I wish to meditate more and practice more yoga.

  • Ann

    Mindfulness–that’s my word for the year

  • SV

    I chose “Grateful” – thinking in terms of what I am Grateful for day by day can lead to more Happiness in our life!

  • Crone

    “Elimination” As an original baby boomer, I have accumulated a lot of paper, I mean a lot of paper. Paper equals Memory, and I have this nagging suspicion that If I throw away my papers, I’ll be throwing away my access to these memories. Trouble is, not being able to eliminate papers translates into not being able to eliminate shit, and this is affecting my health. So, my word is “Eliminate.”