Do These 26 Things to Make This Year the Best Year Ever


There was a time when life was full of new experiences.

I went dancing and took night classes. We camped out all day to see "The Empire Strikes Back" — no cell phones, no tablets, just lawn chairs and a cooler full of drinks and snacks. I competed for Ms. Autorama on a dare, climbed on the shoulders of a guy I didn't know to get closer to Steve Perry at a Journey concert, and broke my hand getting bucked off a horse.

But of course, as we get older and more responsible, those adventures get farther and fewer between. We've got bills to pay, careers to advance, kids to raise, and retirements to plan.

That dream of a to-do list is still there, but lately, it's started to collect some dust. And while we might secretly wish we had more time and resources to rekindle our adventurous side, the reality is we're starting to think our glory days are behind us and this is what they really mean when they say "settled in your ways."

But maybe we just need to rethink our definition of "adventure." Maybe we're not as settled as we think. Maybe we just need a new to-do list and a little motivation to open up a whole new world of new experiences.

So, here are some ideas to get you started and on your way to making this year your best year yet. (Even though you've only got about half of it left.)

1. Take That Vacation

You know, the one you've been putting off. The one you promised your family that you'd take years ago, but never did. Go to the beach. Go see the mountains. Or just venture a few cities over and stay in a hotel — one with a pool, of course. Getting away is good for the soul, and it creates memories you'll cherish forever.

2. Paint Your Walls

No, not repaint them white or beige. Pick something a little bolder, something with some personality. You've seen those Home Depot commercials. Pick something with some flair. And then ask your friends to help. If they're good friends, they'll do it for pizza and beer. You'll have a stunning new paint job when you're done and stronger friendships.

3. Learn Something New

I've written before about the benefits of keeping your mind fit and with so many cheap and free options, there's absolutely no reason you can't broaden your horizons yes, even with your busy schedule. Take a class, watch lessons on YouTube, or just grab what you need and learn as you go. You can't discover the secrets of the Universe if you don't seek them out. (See also: Learn Something New Everyday)

4. Ride a Horse

Broken hand aside, there is something exhilarating about riding a horse. And not just sitting on his back steering him in a circle. I'm talking about actually getting him to do what you want, teaching him to follow your commands, giving in to your direction so that the two of you can work together. It's really cool to go fast, too.

5. Make a Difference

We'd all like to see the world become a better place. We'd like to end poverty, feed the hungry, stop global warming, deter crime. The list just goes on and on. But for those things to happen, someone has to do them. Why not you? Join a committee, adopt a highway, run for office. Be the leader everyone else is looking for.

6. Write a Letter

When was the last time you actually wrote a letter? I mean with pen and paper, not electronically. Letters are personal, intimate, and definitely more intriguing than just another email. So, pick up your pen, grab your best stationery, and get to writing. Don't know who to write to? Write a letter to your mom, your grandmother, your best friend that lives out of state, or pen something to your congressman or local newspaper. Putting thoughts on paper is liberating — and it can be a treasured memento for the person receiving it.

7. Change Your Style

I know those are your favorite jeans. I know you love your sweats and with the jacket on, you can't even see the repairs you did on that skirt. But it's time for an update. Try something new. Add some color. Go bright and bold. You'll be amazed at how much you change on the inside when you tweak what's on the outside. (See also: How to Update Your Wardrobe for Cheap)

8. Pay Off One Bill

Just one. It doesn't even have to be a big one. You've been wanting to get out of debt for a while now, or maybe you're still ignoring the problem, either way, it's time to take control of your finances and paying off a single bill is a big step in the right direction. Plus, think of all the fun things you can do when your cash flow isn't strapped down by debt.

9. Start a Savings Account

Okay, this one isn't exactly daring, but there is definitely something very sexy about being financially fit. Always having the money you need for the things you want, always being able to keep calm and get things done, no matter what unexpected surprises life might throw your way. Granted, that kind of financial confidence might take some time, but you gotta start somewhere.

10. Apply for a Job

Not just any job — apply for The Job. The job you'd love to have, but you're so not qualified to get. Why bother? Because you just might get it. And even if you don't, the experience will do you good, and the only way to reach those stars is to, well, reach for them.

11. Start a Business

How long have you been sitting on that idea for a new business? How long have you thought, "one of these days...?" Well, today is one of these days, so get started. Make this the year that you went into business for yourself. (See also: Starting Your Dream Business Is Easier Than You Think)

12. Start a New Tradition

When I was little, we weren't allowed to rush the tree on Christmas morning. Instead, dad would keep us hidden in the hall while mom positioned herself with the camera on the couch. The result is a collection of "first-look" pictures — me and my brother, eyes wide with excitement as we saw what Santa had brought for the first time. I've continued that tradition with my children and I'm betting they'll do the same with theirs.

But I've also created a few new traditions of my own.

Every Christmas, for example, my kids get to choose a new ornament. It goes on the tree with the rest and when they're grown, they can take their collection with them. We also make cookies the week before, baked from scratch, cut and painted by the kids while I boil a mixture of cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg on the stove. The smell is delightful and it sets the mood for cookie-making. Yes, these are little things, but it's those things that we remember most when we're grown.

13. Reconnect With an Old Friend

Do you ever wonder what happen to that girl that lived down the street from you when you were growing up? Or how your college roommate is doing, given that you haven't spoken to him/her since graduation? Now's the time to find out. With so much technology at your fingertips, tracking someone down is much easier than it used to be. And honestly, you can never have enough good people around you. (Prepare to be amazed: Children's author Eric Carle recently reconnected with a childhood friend he hadn't seen in 82 years!)

14. Meet Your Neighbors

When I was growing up, everyone knew everyone. I couldn't walk down the street without neighbors saying hello, asking about my folks or sending a recipe home with me for my mom to try. I also couldn't get into trouble, because everyone on that block knew exactly who to call. Somewhere along the way, we lost that sense of community, and I for one think it's time to get it back. Invite your neighbors over for a cookout. Take some baked goods and go knock on their door. Organize a block party or just stop the next time you see them outside and say hello. It's your neighborhood — shouldn't you know who lives in it?

15. Change Your Diet For a Week (or More!)

Learn how to cook something authentically "not" your usual fare. Try eating a Mediterranean diet or go vegetarian and see how you feel. Cut out processed foods, fast foods, drink more water, have a smoothie for breakfast. The choices are endless, and the results are worth the effort. The point is to become more conscious about what you're putting into your body. Food (and the creation of it) can be a ritual experience in and of itself if you let it. But to experience that ritual, you have to do more than open a can or unwrap a sandwich. (See also: 10 Easy Exotic Meals)

16. Play an Instrument

You've been talking about taking up guitar for years now. Or, you're tired of dusting that piano that never gets played. So play it. YouTube is a virtual goldmine for aspiring musicians and there's plenty of books, courses, and teachers out there to help you as well. Music soothes the soul, lifts the spirit, and calms the mind. It's also been shown to help ward off dementia and improve your memory. And if that's not enough, it makes you appear more attractive. Need I say more?

17. Do Something… Not You

When George Castanza (from "Seinfeld") did the opposite of what he normally does, he was rewarded with an amazing streak of good luck. Women suddenly wanted to date him, the New York Yankees offered him a job, and he finally got the chance to move out of his parents' apartment.

"If every instinct you have is wrong," Jerry tells George, "then the opposite would have to be right."

And not that your instincts are wrong...

But once in a while, it's time to shake things up, so do something — anything — that's not "you." Be spontaneous, take a dare, get a tattoo, walk right up to that guy or girl you've been eyeing and give them your phone number.

What's the worst that could happen? Better yet, what if the best happened instead?

18. Volunteer

When you were a kid, did you dream of being a superhero? Able to leap tall buildings or thwart evil with your golden lasso? We all did. And here's your chance. Volunteer. You don't even have to leave your house — VolunteerMatch has hundreds of opportunities you can do from the comfort of your secret lair. You'll feel better, the people you help will feel better, and you'll be one step closer to getting that invitation to join the Justice League.

19. Be A YES Man (or Woman)

No, you don't have to give a stranger a ride out into the woods, but you do need to learn to say "YES" more often. Not to things you really don't want to do, but to things that you would be doing if you weren't feeling tired, overworked, stressed out, and stuck in your ways. Say yes to opportunity and see what adventures come your way as a result.

20. Compete

They say that "winning isn't everything," and they're right. But it doesn't suck either. And it doesn't even have to be anything big. Join a co-ed softball team. Train for a local 5K. Submit your poetry or short story to a writing contest or coach a little league team and take them all the way to the playoffs. And incidentally, if you don't win, don't sweat it. It's the challenge of a competition that will do you the most good.

21. Create Your Own Time Capsule

Write a letter to yourself 20, 30, or even 50 years from now. Have your kids and spouse do the same. Include pictures of who you are now, where you are now, and what you think the future might hold. Then seal it up, and lock it away until the designated time. It's a great way to preserve memories, and it gets the kids off the electronic devices for a while. In other words, it's a win-win.

22. Be Nicer to Others

Smile more. Hold the door open for someone. Let that car trying to merge pull in front of you. Say thank you and please. Leave big tips. Spread the love and you'll be surprised at how quickly it comes back to you. (See also: 25 Easy Ways to Make Someone's Day)

23. Be Nicer to Yourself

No more putting yourself down. No more beating yourself up. For the rest of the year, make this the year that you pamper yourself, indulge yourself, protect yourself, and treat yourself the way you're supposed to be treated.

24. Go See an Opera

I saw my first opera on a field trip in the 5th grade. It was "Romeo and Juliet," and although we had no idea what they were actually saying, I was mesmerized by the sheer energy of the production and enchanted by the elegance of its patrons. Opera expands your cultural awareness. It conveys emotions that you just don't get in a movie theater. And it gives you a great excuse to get dressed to the nines and enjoy a very refined night out on the town.

25. Learn a Language

I know I mention this one frequently, but I'm going to mention it again here because communication is the key to our evolution. Plus, it's not like it costs you anything to do it. You can learn Spanish, Russian, Italian, and French for free, in just 10 minutes a day using Duolingo. Not only will it enable you to hold a conversation with more people, but learning a foreign language is also a great way to stimulate the brain and ward off dementia.

26. Make a Move

There's something you've been wanting to do. You know what it is. It's that "one thing" that you've been talking about for a while now. Maybe it's asking someone out on a date. Maybe it's starting a business, going back to school, changing careers, selling your house and moving to a new state. Whatever it is, this is the year that you make your move and set that thing into motion.

So there's my list. What are you going to do with the rest of the year to make it a great one? Start by sharing your ideas in comments!

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