One-Word Themes for 2023

Letters spelling "Start Now"

At the beginning of a new year, many of us look for ways to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

On January 1, many people make New Year’s resolutions—but many people don’t like making these resolutions. How about you?

Maybe you love resolutions (like me). Or maybe you feel discouraged, because you’ve made and broken too many resolutions in the past. Or maybe you don’t like the idea of binding yourself to a resolution, or you think that making a resolution on January 1 seems arbitrary.

(By the way, these responses often correspond to the Four Tendencies. Don’t know if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Rebel, or Questioner? Take the free Four Tendencies quiz.)

For whatever reason, resolutions don’t work for everyone.

Instead, consider joining a yearly challenge, like #Rest22in22 or #Read21in21, or make a “23 for 23” list with 23 things you’d like to accomplish for the year.

Or try this exercise: Identify one idea, summarized in one word or phase, as your overarching theme for 2023.

My sister Elizabeth and I have been doing this for years. Some of our choices:

  • Elizabeth: “Free Time,” “Style,” “Hot Wheels,” “Novel,” “Home,” “Control,” “#6,” “Lighter,”  “Butterfly,” and for 2022, “Step.”
  • Gretchen: “Upgrade,” “Bigger,” “Lighten Up,” “Re-purpose,” “Delegate,” “Infrastructure,” “Growth,” “Open,” and for 2022, “Salt.”

In episode 408 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, we revealed our one-word themes for 2023 and explained why we chose them.

  • Elizabeth: Scale
  • Gretchen: Wave

Over the years, we’ve found that a one-word theme works best when it’s a word with multiple meanings and associations. When I chose “Salt,” I had no idea how rich and complex that one-word theme would turn out to be.

It’s also fun and helpful if a one-word theme can be expressed visually. Last year, Elizabeth bought me a “Salt” T-shirt (from a salt-and-pepper Halloween costume) that I love wearing.

This year, I realized that I could capture “Wave” in an image by invoking one of the Met’s most famous artworks: Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also known as The Great Wave, by Katsushika Hokusai.

I bought myself some items from the Met’s gift shop to help me keep my “Wave” theme uppermost in my mind.

"Wave" Postcard

We asked listeners for their one-word themes, and heard many imaginative, thought-provoking ideas:

  • Fresh
  • Identity
  • Allow
  • Pace
  • Decide
  • Savor
  • Share
  • Water
  • Simplify
  • Flexible
  • Magic
  • Gentle
  • Enough
  • Forward
  • Transition
  • Harvest
  • Flowering
  • Healthy
  • Upgrade
  • Margin
  • Flex
  • Whole
  • Reflect
  • Fun
  • Draw
  • Dig
  • Peacock
  • Audible

Are you going to choose a one-word or one-phrase theme for the year? It’s a surprisingly fun way to reflect on what we want from the coming year, and to generate ideas to meet those aims.



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