What were your personal, social or academic highlights this year? When did you feel your best? What did you achieve? What about the smaller moments — perhaps a video call with a friend, a meal you prepared for a parent or a long walk alone? Are those smaller moments the ones you remember as the best days of the year?
In “You Can Make Any Day the Best Day of the Year,” Lindsay Crouse writes about appreciating the ordinary and embracing the smaller “best days”:
On New Year’s Eves when I was in my late 20s, I would ask my friends to reflect on our best days of the year, the times when we had the most fun, felt the most grateful or were happiest.
Sometimes they were the days we expected. Parties, vacations, weddings. But more often, the real best days in hindsight weren’t the obvious ones. They were marked by the ordinary: a long conversation with a friend when I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did. That time we were going to miss the train so we sprinted to the point of near collapse — and made it. Staggering home with a Christmas tree so big, it barely fit through the door.
The planned punctuations to life — holidays, job promotions, family milestones — often disappoint. New Year’s Eve is useless; Thanksgiving ends up being memorable not for the meal but for the next-day deliberations over how many ways you can eat a leftover turkey. The polished moments that ended up on Instagram weren’t what I remembered at the end of the year, either. I rarely had any photos at all of the best days. I was too busy living them.
The problem with these best days was they went by without me realizing how special they were. Unmarked by ceremony and undocumented for posterity, they streamed together in my mind as a blur.
I wondered, could I find a way to know when the best days were coming and really feel them as they happened? So I tried declaring a best day in advance. Even if it felt ridiculous, this effort to make the ordinary feel extraordinary usually worked. Mundane experiences felt special when I marked them as such. Staying up talking in a living room until too late at night or going for a weekend run through a park in the sunshine felt as wonderful as I had hoped it would.
Designating a regular night as a best night helped me claim that moment. I no longer had to battle my nostalgia for ownership of my experiences. Now that I was looking for them, I caught them before they became memories.
Students, read the entire article, then:
Reflect on 2021 and make a list of your favorite days from this past year. You can include big moments like graduations or birthdays, but also try to include several smaller moments. As you make your list, include one word or phrase that describes what made each day special.
Describe in detail one of your best days. What was different about it? How did you feel? Who were you with? What did you do? Include sensory descriptions of the smells, tastes and sounds that accompanied this day or moment.
Ms. Crouse writes: “I rarely had any photos at all of the best days. I was too busy living them.” Can you relate to this? Do you find it harder to remember the ordinary days that became special? If so, why?
The author writes: “Looking back at 2021, I realized recently that I had stopped seeing the best days. I was too busy following the news and wishing my life would go back to normal. But this is normal now. Our lives are not on hold. This is it.” Do you feel similarly? How has the pandemic affected your ability to notice or appreciate good days? Do you find yourself experiencing nostalgia for good days in the past?
Ms. Crouse used to declare a “best day” in advance, and she writes that she plans to restart that habit immediately. Do you think that strategy might work for you, too? Why or why not?
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.