A Fun Way to Make a New Year’s Resolution: Choose a One-Word Theme for 2016.

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

I love resolutions,, and as I wrote about in my book Happier at Home, for the last several years, I’ve identified one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.

My sister Elizabeth often does this kind of resolution, too. Last year her theme is “Novel.” One year was the year of “Free Time,” another, “Style,” another “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.

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

For 2015, I chose “Upgrade.” In this post from January 2, I wrote, “I want to take many areas of my life to the next level. ”

And I’m happy to say, that this year, I did upgrade in a big way. With my new podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin! This podcast is a whole new adventure for me and Elizabeth, my co-host sister. New people, new skills, new challenges, new fun. And as I’d hoped, that feeling of “upgrade” made me feel energized and gratified. We’re especially excited today, because we just found out that iTunes named us one of the “Best of 2015” podcasts. Yowza!

And of course, my book Better Than Before came out in 2015, too. I’ve written lots of books, but it’s exciting every time, and every time, a new world opens up, afterward. It’s so thrilling to put ideas out there, to see what people say.

For 2016, I’m cheating a little, and allowing myself two words: “Lighten up.”

This isn’t a new aim of mine. I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and “Lighten up” is actually #9.

I tend to get intense and worked up, and I take myself too seriously. I want to remind myself to take things lightly, keep a sense of perspective, and see the funny side of things.

To inspire myself to lighten up, I just watched that scene from the movie Stripes: “Lighten up, Francis.” And I re-read one of my favorite lines, from G. K. Chesterton: “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.”

I’ve heard so many great ideas: Adventure, Renew, Energize, Bestow, Grace, Travel, Free, Rest, Finish.

Have you ever tried this choose-a-theme approach? What did you pick — or what might you pick, for 2016?

If you’d like to read more about choosing one-word themes for the year, I talk about it with my sister in episode 26 of our podcast, and I write about it in my book Happier at Home.

  • Bethany Johnson

    I’ve tried this before; 2015 was “Focus”. 2016 is “Less/More”.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great ideas!

  • Kristie C

    Good idea! Come to think of it, all of my goals for the new year have to do with creating “Space”- whether it is physical, temporal, mental or emotional space – so that I can feel calm and ready to take on new challenges.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love that theme!

  • theshubox

    For 2016, I am going to choose “Peace”.

    I want to find peace even within the more chaotic moments with my children. I want to bring a sense of peace to work with me every day (for my patients and colleagues). I want to create my own inner peace by engaging in positive, nurturing activities, by not rushing, and doing one thing at a time. And I want to relax more and freak out less. Peace 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Love it!

  • Genevieve Rodriguez

    I love this idea! I’m going to think about the things I want to accomplish and then spam my apartment with the word I come up with!! I tend to do better with vision boards and constant visual reminders. I think 2016 is going to be either Complete or Finish. I tend to start things and then get overwhelmed because I tend to over-complicate things and quit.

    • Michele Zacks

      a less self judgemental word could be: Restart!

      • Genevieve Rodriguez

        Thank you! I love that!

  • Heather T

    My word for 2016 is “Listen”. Not that I think I’m a bad listener. But I am hoping that reminding myself to “listen” will help me be here now, not distracted and staring at a screen all day. Listen to my kids, my husband, my body, my heart, my gut. Listen to music. Listen to birdsongs. Listen to the world around me and be aware that world doesn’t revolve around me.

    In previous years, my words were “healthy” and “fun”.

    • Lisa Y

      Listen is the word I had chosen as well! It makes people feel so good when someone takes the time to REALLY listen to them, and I want to be someone who gives people that feeling of importance. I am especially guilty of only half-listening to my children, who are the most important people to have my full attention.

  • Victoria

    My word for 2015 was “Integrity” – I reminded myself that I want to live with integrity, in line with my values, and this informs many of my day-to-day decisions (when I can remain mindful enough to remember!). It ties in with the Strategy of Identity for me – I want to be the sort of person who… (fill in the blank).

    My word for 2016 is either “Better” or “Progress” – I love the sentiment of the title of “Better than Before” – I remember your working title was “Before and After” which was great too, but had the flavour of a dramatic transition rather than incremental progress. So I often hear myself say – I’m still not perfect, but I’m doing better than before!

    • Genevieve Rodriguez

      This is great!

  • Ana

    For 2015, I chose “Strength”—related to physical fitness, emotional/mental health, and important relationships. For 2016, I’m choosing “Notice” (not my favorite word, maybe I’ll come up with a better synonym!)—I want to really pay attention to the many amazing but small wonders surrounding me every day: when my children laugh and play together (this lasts only a few minutes before the fighting so I have to work to notice it!) a compliment or thank you from my husband, the sunset, the way my “senior” dog still jumps around & wags her entire back end when we come home

    • bonnie

      Great idea!
      How about “awareness”?

    • MaggieRose59

      How about “Enjoy”?

    • Mimi Gregor

      How about “delight”? During the month of December, I’ve been posting a December Daily Delight most every day. Since most people who post on social media seem to complain about things, I put it out there that we should post about something that delighted us every day in December. Even though most of us don’t post every day, we are always on the lookout for things of delight that we can post about. It’s the looking, not the posting that is the important part of this equation. As you look for positive things, more positive things will be attracted to you.

      • Ana

        Delight is delightful! Perfect! thanks Mimi!

        • Michele Zacks

          My facebook page is full of travel photos from Bayou City Outdoors members who have challenged each other to post pics from their trips.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    FAMILY is the word I am choosing for 2016. The last time I arrived with my daughter in law, we both cried because we had been missing each other so much. An over-busy life for all of us and limitations imposed by health issues, my very elderly mother, my son’s heavy work schedule and an active toddler make it tough for us to be disciplined about staying in touch. We all want to be closer, and I aim to do every bit of my part in making that happen in the coming year. I have another son who is also very busy and not the worlds most comfortable communicator, and brothers and families living far away from me. Traveling from NC to OH for Thanksgiving and making more frequent phone calls and emails to my brothers has been really great this year and I want to increase that next year.
    This year my word was ‘Kind’ — and that is an attitude I sometimes struggle to maintain as I carry out my duties. I have done a little better than in the past, but I still have a lot to learn.

  • Jenna

    This year is LESS. Spend shopping, less hurrying, less worrying.

  • I have been thinking about this since you discussed it on the podcast and my one word for 2016 is ENOUGH. I want to remember that what I have is already enough–actually more than enough–just the way it is. My house is enough, my body is enough, my career is enough, my money is enough, my gold stars are enough. I miss my own life half the time because I am perennially reaching for more and never seeing that what I have right now is enough.

    • Marcia

      Enough was my word this year, Joy, and it was such a good word for me. I also used it to say enough of putting up with x-kind of behaviour from friends and work colleagues….

      Interestingly, my word for 2016 is JOY 🙂

  • Natalie

    I have chosen a word the past couple of years, after reading about the idea probably on your blog, but then promptly forgotten all about it. 2015 was supposed to be “Thrive” but I think it would be more accurate to call it “Chaos”! It was a very tough year.
    The word that springs to mind, after a blog I wrote this morning, is “Write”. I finished the first draft of my first novel in 2014 then through the chaos of last year barely touched it. I want to get it edited and polished, start sending it to publishers, and work on the sequel. Being a novelist is the dream of my life, so I need to stop drifting and get back into it!

  • ChristinaS

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I am going to choose “Sweeter. I have decided ‘free myself of sugar’ as my New Years resolution, and I like the irony! But also the idea to seek satisfaction in things sweeter than sugar. As an added layer and second resolution, I also want to foster sweetness to others, since I can tend to be harsh and snippy and impatient. So it’s a perfect theme for the year!

    • MaggieRose59

      Wow! I love this! An inspired and inspiring idea. I just might borrow this!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific. Good luck. As someone who gave up sugar, I do indeed find life sweeter without it! Free from sugar!

      • Michele Zacks

        I’m curious how the sugar-free life has transpired for you. I know that you write from a home office. I am ever frustrated, as I’ve held into my sugar-free existence, happier with it, but I am faced with sugar peer pressure on a daily basis in my work environment. It’s exhausting and i am even being asked to explain myself!!!

        • gretchenrubin

          My sister faces this problem—as a TV writer, she’s in an environment stuffed with every delicious kind of food imaginable.
          For me, not eating sugar means that I don’t have trouble resisting those foods – it’s like they don’t exist. But if I worked in an office like my sister’s, perhaps that would be more difficult.

          • Michele Zacks

            yes, and she is diabetic! This would be an interesting angle for the blog. How others can thwart one’s effort to form positive habits.

    • Ana

      I LOVE this. Can I have 2 words? So creative!

  • Jenni

    My word for 2016 was going to be “Faster” (as in faster at my work, responding to requests, emails, etc.) But after reading your list, I’m changing it to “Adventure”! The past year, I started freelancing and I found that I often have the opportunity to travel for work which is my dream. While I do need to be faster at everything, that word puts on a lot of pressure—already I was feeling anxious about it as I tend to be a slow, anxious perfectionist. But “Adventure” is fun and freeing. I would love to travel or go on work trips guilt-free without the nagging feeling of unfinished business. This requires I use any and all down-time efficiently, as well as make responses and decisions quickly (anxiety be damned), because I never know when or where the next opportunity will arise. It’s so much more exciting to think of cleaning, office work, and completing various mundane tasks as all preparation for my next adventure!

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great theme and plan for the year!

  • De Lynn Htet

    My one-word theme for 2016 is “Better”!.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE it!

  • Audrey

    I was thinking about this the other day and then I realised it needs to be ‘SPACE’. I’ve been decluttering my physical stuff on and off for years, but I realised I also need to create some space in my calendar, in my social life, in my time-planning, even in conversations where I’m too quick to rush in and fill a pause. I want to leave more space open for possibilities. And more space in my budget for opportunities and future challenges. Also, one anagram of ‘space’ is ‘capes’, which all self-respecting superheroes have for flying, and another is ‘paces’, and I could happily work on pacing myself and my energy better. So voilà! Let the exploration of space begin!

  • MaggieRose59

    I loved “Sweeter” below, but I think mine really needs to be “Let go”. Which is the lead of “Let go or be dragged”. Let go of my own expectations of myself. Let go of who I always thought I should be and just be who I really am. Let go of all the emotional baggage of past hurts (some long past and insignificant). Let go of trying to finish arguments in my head (some long past with people I don’t even know anymore). Let go of old grudges, old resentments. Let go of all the anger holding on to these things creates. Of course the key to letting go of all this is forgiveness. But my word is still “Let go”.

  • Klarafu

    My word for the year is “enough” – last year was “rest”

  • I love this! It really reminds me of how I work with the Desire Map every year to come up with my word of the year. I love that approach! My word for next year is expansion <3.

  • Mimi Gregor

    A friend used the phrase “curate my moods”, and the word resonated with me. Ideally, we should curate every aspect of our lives: moods, clothing, furnishings, food… only bringing into our homes and lives that which will add to our energy — not sap it.

  • ingercarin

    As an obliger I’m seriously considering ME as my word for 2016. I mean, it feels awful just writing it, but it is time. I’ve been neglecting myself for so long that I actually need to find out what is a good life for ME.

  • Kathy

    I’ve done this for several years and one year my word was light! (I also have the words “lighten up” taped to my computer monitor–I take myself and life too seriously sometimes also). I think the words I’ve chosen have helped me understand myself better and live a fuller life. In addition to light, I’ve chosen “open”, “passion”, and in 2015, “delight.” I don’t know yet what 2016’s word will be, but I look forward to finding out what presents itself.

  • Kavitha

    Wow!! Lighten up was my “word” for 2015. I wrote about it on my blog the same day that you did (Jan 2nd)

  • Kavitha

    Hit enter too soon… I greatly enjoy your blog, books and your podcast – and I struggle with a lot of the same things as you indicate (taking self too seriously, etc.). I wrote about my word last year in my blog – https://momto2cuddlebugs.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/my-word-for-2015/
    Don’t think I’ve been quite as successful with it as I’d have liked. But having a word for the year keeps it in the forefront of my mind – the strategy of convenience? And that’s been helpful. Still have to figure out a word for 2016. Good luck with lightening up!

  • Trina Summers

    The word I have chosen is HOME. I spent several years going back to school to finish my degree and things around the house have gotten beyond chaotic. I really needed to cut myself some slack and have some downtime after the degree was finished, but now it is time to get things in order. This word is something I can relate to in all aspects of my life as I want to feel at home in my job, my body, etc. It ties closely into my Rebel-tendency core value of authenticity. I do not feel “at home” in my own house right now because it does not reflect the identities of the people who live there. 2016 is going to be spectacular.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE that word. I wrote a whole book, HAPPIER AT HOME, all about how to be…happier at home!

  • MichelleAssist

    Although I didn’t actively choose it, I think my theme word for 2015 was “family.” I focused entirely on my new baby and on supporting my husband in his school career this year, and I kind of lost myself. For 2016, I’m not sure, but perhaps my word will be “create” or “write” or “novel.” I love this idea of a single-word theme for the year. I definitely want to take up this habit.

  • Ali

    I never did this before but I decided a while ago that my word will be RELISH. My youngest turns two in a January and it will be the last year with a little one who is at home all the time (in 2017 he will start pre-school – only a few hours a week but it’s still a big change). I’m working part time and mostly at home at the moment. In a year or so I will probably need to work more hours so I really want to consciously make the most of this time together and with my eldest who is at school full time now.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific choice.

  • Jordan Page

    Throughout the last year, I have slowly been working towards my 2016 theme, which is “aware.” Being aware of every aspect of my life is what keeps me working towards my ultimate goal of purposeful living: aware of my feelings, aware of others feelings, aware of how certain foods affect my body, aware of how exercising improves my moods, aware of how much lighter I feel when I am keeping in contact with Jesus, aware of the fulfillment I feel when I am creating, etc. etc. Thank you for this post! I look forward to becoming more aware in everything I do!

  • Laura King

    My word for 2016 is BE- BE rather than do, want, have. It will be my reminder to BE present, BE here right now and soak up everything that is happening rather than move on autopilot. I love it!

  • Deirdre

    I was introduced to this idea in 2006 by Ali Edwards (who now teaches a 12 month mini course to integrate your word into your daily life called “One Little Word”—google it for more info). My best friend and I have shared our word for the year ever since, and now my kids each pick a word. It becomes a bit of a touchstone for the year, and I love noticing the way it shows up in unexpected ways.

    And I cheat too—with more than one word (I chose “let go” in 2014, and “brave and kind” in 2015).

  • Tally

    OPEN is a word that came to me during an “ah-ha” moment very recently. I have a toddler, husband, and work full-time and a toddler takes a lot of attention so my agenda is not very full with fun or social activities. And maybe this is not the time that it can be as I nurture my little one so it’s good to be Open. Open to life to experiences to opportunities to people to non judgement to anything and all that’s in between. 2016 I am open to live experiment and thrive.

    • Tally

      Correction: live experience and thrive.

  • Tally

    Live experience and thrive. I’ll save the experimenting for the bedroom. Lol

  • Lorraine Faulds

    I chose “active” and then used 7 categories to come up ideas for my word of the year. Example: Mentally: FOCUS by being in the moment, closing the laptop more often, and decreasing distractions at work. I’ll add specific tasks later but I want to do more than just cruise through 2016; I want to make progress and being active will facilitate that.

  • My theme for 2016 is self-love. 🙂 I have been a low self-esteem kid. Over the years, I have improved a lot. But year 2015, I stepped away from it and depression came to visit. I think it is really time to pay attention to loving myself in 2016. I share it on my blog too. http://www.nerdycreator.com/blog/2016-theme-self-love/

  • Kit Mair


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  • Leanne Sowul

    Thank you for getting me started on this yearly habit, Gretchen! I just wrote a blog post about the word I chose for 2016 and why. http://leannesowul.com/productivity/the-word-of-2016/

  • Cledbo

    I remembered this post while I was sitting in bed on New Year’s Eve (having an 8 month old will do that to you!) and after some reflection I found my word for 2016: Brave.

    Being a new mom has broken me down in so many ways, this year I’m building myself back up, starting a new job, wanting to go back out into the world, and I felt this was the word I need to remember every day to keep me going.

    • Annette Stiller

      I’m also going to use Brave – not as a new parent, but as a new retiree and empty nester. After spending the last 33 years living with others, I have been surprised by how often I’ve felt anxious now that I live alone. This will be my year to bravely forge a new life for myself.

  • Ann Wright

    My word for 2016 is possibilities.

  • I write a funny travel blog and do freelance travel writing too. But I waste huge amounts of time surfing on the internet instead of doing things I need to do to grow my following, I also do things that get my unfocused on my goals. So I’m going for a two word – Focused nourishment. I’m going to try to be more focused and only on things that nourish my goals and/or happiness. I like it!

  • Jeanne

    One word for 2016 – Connect! My upbringing shut me down at a very early age (third grade), and I have felt like I was on the outside looking in to the human experience ever since. Gotten over it a lot over the years, but still “I don’t belong here” is my go-to place, and may always be. So consciously connecting will help me overcome this. Also connecting within to the life inside me as well as the activities outside. Have already committed to sit on the board of a local arts organization. A big belonging step for me. What about overcommitter/undercommitter? I have been an extreme undercommitter my whole life. Non-belonger, non-committer – makes sense…

  • Michele Zacks

    i decided to work on a yearly theme and this post reminded me. last year was EASY. It didn’t go very well. this year is BADASS.

    • Michele Zacks

      interestingly, to achieve Badass status, I need more convenience. I realized that the “minimizer” theory explains why I don’t buy what I need to have comfort and organization, which I desperately need to achieve my professional, art, and fitness goals. Yesterday, I finally bought myself a lunchbox, utensil set, and lunch bag, after 6 months on the fence. It was an amazing relief to eat fruits and veggies without having to fuss.

  • Erin Adams

    I enjoyed your podcast over this weekend while my cousin visited. She listens all the time. Interestingly, I found one thing quite intriguing in your conversation with your sister. It was about setting resolutions and one of you stated that although you like setting resolutions, it must be about the action which you can control not the outcome which you cannot control.
    Thank you for changing the way I feel about my goals. Resolve to act differently which will lead to your desired outcome!

  • Gina

    I love the stories behind each person’s word. This year, my guiding word has to be CLARITY. Keeping a clear head to be creative and enjoying the simple things in life. Clarity of vision to make good decisions involving loved ones. Creating clear spaces. Giving clear rather than confused and polite messages, full of apology. It must be a British thing. Sorry!
    Happy New Year to you all….Gina

  • BMcFly

    FLEXIBLE . Literally and figuratively. Try to see things from a different perspective, experiment in pushing my boundaries. And, yoga! Because I’m not getting any younger. And I like touching my toes.

  • Love this idea, Gretchen! Thank you for reminding us of the joy (and power) of choosing the right word. For 2016, I chose “Alight” because it can mean either to rest gently & settle (as in a bird on a branch) or to catch fire & glow. Who can resist a good dual meaning? Not me. 🙂

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  • Mathilde

    I used this last year, and my theme was “Onward”: I’d been feeling stuck in my job and my city, and figured this could be my push. One year later, I’ve moved to a bigger city, gone back to graduate school, and have an internship in my field lined up this summer! For this coming year, I’m still deciding, but I think it might be “Go Deep”. It’s easy to try and skate by doing the bare minimum in grad school, but I really want to make sure I savor this chance to continue my education, and get as much out of this phase of life as I can.

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