What I Learned From Recording the Highlights of Each Day for All of 2016

For the year 2016, my 21st year, I decided to do something different. I bought a clear jar and struck an agreement with myself that at the end of each day, for all 365 days of the year, I would write down the best parts of that day (no negativity allowed!) on a little piece of paper and place it in the jar. I wanted to do this as a sort of research project on how my variables, 1) persistence in recording life’s happenings, each day and 2) acknowledging only the positive things, would affect the way I experienced the year.

I mustered up some research questions (this is not a science article, I promise!) and wanted to know:

Would I start approaching each day and maybe even the moments of my life with a new attitude?

Would I become a more mindful person, aware of the moments unfolding in front of me?

Would I experience more gratitude?

What would I learn about the passage of time?

And to amp up the experience even more, I decided I wouldn’t open the jar until the end of the year.

What kinds of things would I be thinking as I went through all of my little notes? Would any powerful epiphanies flood at me and would I suddenly have the answer to the mystery that we call life? (That was probably a stretch, but I wasn’t opposed to keeping it in the back of my mind.)

I was very excited to see how my little time capsule experiment would measure up against these big life questions. And what I found was that I examined and discovered more about life in one year than I had in my past twenty.

How we live each day is how we live our lives.

We often wake up in the morning and see “the day” as this obstacle to get through. While brushing our teeth in the morning, we mentally check through all the things that need to be done, letting out a heavier sigh with each task. And we simply surrender. After all, that’s the easiest thing to do.

At the beginning of the year, that was me: someone who just went through the motions. I was often on autopilot, mindlessly going through life. I would plop into bed at the end of the day, not even sure what really happened over the past 15-17 hours. But the more the days and months went on, as I put more notes in my jar, the more I found myself noticing the little things, like how nice it was when I found the time to curl up in bed with a book, how doing the dishes actually gave me time to think and how only in college do you get to eat an entire Jimmy John’s sub at 2 A.M. and then stay up for another hour having deep talk with your roommates.

And I started realizing it was these little things, each day, that were special, and I never wanted to overlook them. The most ordinary is sometimes the most significant. And these are the things that I know when I’m old and grown, reminiscing on my college years, I’ll be pining for the most.

It’s not just the huge milestones that can make your stomach wrench with pride and send that surge of joy through you, but equally, those moments in between.

And those moments are your life.

It’s not about what happens to us, but the meaning we assign to it.

The way we write the narratives of our lives, the stories we tell ourselves of what has happened to us and what we are as a result, makes up who we are. I realized that it’s not so much about what we have done, but the way we respond to it. What sticks with us is the attitude we tell the stories of our lives in. It’s about if we let moments make us feel regretful or broken, or if we see them with joy and with silver linings.

When I was going through my little notes, I didn’t remember all of the events in a play-by-play manner, but what was as clear as day were the feelings I got from them. Whether I was enlightened, proud, challenged… those feelings stuck with me. I’ll forget all these events someday, but what will stay with me forever is the learning and sentimentality that occurred to me in them.

Spontaneity is key.

The little notes that made me crack up the most were the ones where I did the most bizarre, idiosyncratic and unexpected things, and I realized just how important spontaneity is.

Monotonous routines make us numb and robotic, and they even give the illusion of time moving faster. But we are only given one life… we can’t settle for that! It’s so tempting to sink into routines, and they can be great for productivity, but we should change it up when we can. Even a small change, like trying out a new spot for your daily coffee, or taking a new route to class, can be surprisingly uplifting, and even make life seem longer.

It’s typical to think that we should be “seizing the moment,” but just like the movie Boyhood, points out: maybe it’s the moment that seizes us. And we should be open to getting swept up in those things that come upon us, pleasantly and unexpectedly. Simply saying “yes” to something new could be the best part of your day, and who knows where it could lead you.

I deem this experiment to be a major success, and I urge everyone to do this! You can start any day you want!

The big moments, the fleeting ones… this is your life. And all the Snapchats and Instagrams you take will become old photographs one day, but right now, these moments aren’t stories you’re laughing about with old friends — they’re happening to you.

So go on and live your extraordinary, ordinary life.