Podcast 306: Choose Your One-Word Theme for 2021, a New Year’s Hack, and Listeners’ Ideas for Ways to Show Love and Support from Far Away

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Choose a one-word theme for the year.

We do this every year: for instance, in episode 254 we chose a one-word theme for 2020, and in episode 201, we talked about our themes for 2019.

In the past, I’ve had themes such as “Upgrade,” “Bigger,” “Lighten Up,” “Re-purpose,” and “Delegate.” Last year, my word was ” Infrastructure.”

Elizabeth’s past choices have included “Free Time,” “Style,” “Hot Wheels,” “Novel,” “Home,” “Control,” and “#6.” For 2020, her word was “Lighter.”

My word for 2021 is OPEN. Elizabeth’s word is BUTTERFLY.

We heard some interesting ideas from listeners:

  • Tie your one-word theme to your “21 for 21 list“, so that all 21 items amplify your theme, such as “Savor.”
  • If you can’t commit to a signature color, as discussed in episode 71, choose a color of the year, and tie to your one-word theme, such as blue for “Calm.” I mention the “Pantone Color of the Year.”
If you’re interested in joining a community of people who are also doing this type of exercise, you might consider registering for The Happiness Project Experience 2021. The last day to get the discounted price is Monday, January 4. This is a 12-month long video course and community that supports you in doing your own year-long happiness project. More info here.

Happiness Hack

We’re big fans of the terrific podcast Side Hustle School hosted by our friend Chris Guillebeau.

In his “Extended Cuts” episodes, he goes deep into a particularly hot topic, and in Extended Cut #12, he talks about the value of conducting your own annual review – how to live an intentional life.

A listener’s hack is to conduct your annual review through the lens of the “Essential 7” areas for habits.

I identified the Essential 7 when I was writing my book Better Than Before, about the subject of habits. Just about all desirable habits fall into seven broad categories:

  1. Eat and drink more healthfully
  2. Exercise regularly
  3. Save, spend, and earn wisely
  4. Rest, relax, and enjoy
  5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress
  6. Simplify, clear, and organize
  7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world.

Elizabeth mentions episode 179 of Happier in Hollywood, where she and Sarah interview former professional poker player and decision-making expert Annie Duke about how to make better decisions.

Bonus holiday hack

To hold loose paper against a roll of wrapping paper, slit open an empty toilet paper roll, and use it as a cuff to hold the paper to the roll.

Listener Answers

How to show love and support to people from far away.

In episode 302, a listener asked for suggestions for ways she could show support to her mother who’s across the country and receiving chemo and radiation treatments. 

Answers included:

  • have a “book club” where a friend reads a book aloud, and they discuss it
  • send flowers and cards, and arrange simple meals
  • make a playlist of music the person would love, or recommend specific episodes of a podcast (for happy music, check out the Happier 911 playlist on Spotify, with songs suggested by listeners)
  • remember that you can’t take away the burden of being sick; also, there’s great happiness in giving, so could the sick person help in some way? by helping children with homework, documenting old family photographs, or being a good listener.
  • don’t forget the person’s caregiver. I mention the terrific podcast Everything Happens with Kate Bowler.
  • contact friends and family to encourage them to send notes
  • make a paper chain with links that correspond to the days of chemo or radiation, and ask friends and family to write supportive messages on each chain, so that for each day of treatment, the person can take off a link and read it.
  • use TouchNote (an app or touchnote.com) to send postcards or cards your own photos or their art from your phone
  • send regular emails updating the person about the little things going on in your life—Elizabeth and I talk about our family tradition of the “update” email in episode 2
  • ask family and friends to send videos
  • send a succulent from Lula’s Garden
  • send a Skylight frame so you can email photos directly to the picture frame.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth turned a possible demerit into a gold star, and a hack! Instead of skipping the gingerbread-making tradition, she was determined to do it, and she found a recipe that made it much easier to make the gingerbread dough.

Gretchen’s Gold Star:  Jamie says “I love you” all the time, and it’s a wonderful thing. A big happiness booster!


  • Are you joining us to “Read 21 in ‘21”? I’ve created a PDF to help you track your progress as you read for 21 minutes every day in 2021. Check each day off as you go, and give yourself a gold star. Click here to download the PDF.
  • If you’d like to break bad habits and build better ones in the new year, check out my bestselling book Better Than Before. This book identifies the many strategies you can use to make or break habits, in the way that’s right for you.
  • If you listen to Happier (or most other podcasts), you hear the hosts ask listeners to rate and review the show. Why? Listeners respect the views of other listeners, so by rating and reviewing—assuming you have good things to say!—you make other people get interested. Rates and reviews also build buzz around the show. It’s easy to rate and review—once you know what to do. Click here to find step-by-step instructions. Give yourself a gold star if you’ve subscribed, rated, reviewed, or recommended the show. It really is a tremendous help to Elizabeth and me.

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