Five New Year’s Traditions to Try for a Happy, Healthy Start

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

I love New Year’s.

It wasn’t always that way. I remember growing up, when people would ask me what my favorite holiday was. “Uhh…Christmas?” was usually my answer (after which I would think about how unoriginal I was).

For New Year’s when me and my siblings were little, we would stay up late with my parents watching movies, then make a lot of noise when midnight hit. (Really. A lot of noise.) I remember an elementary school assignment about New Year’s resolutions, and feeling like I had been missing out because I had never heard of such a thing before.

As I got older, my older sisters starting going out with friends for the holiday. Me, being painfully shy (well, and starting to experience depression, too), never had friends to go out with. As they also got older, my parents started opting for going to bed on New Year’s, and the whole thing started becoming a non-event for me.

After three years of college, I spent a year and a half as a Mormon missionary in Korea. During that time, I wasn’t allowed to stay up until midnight with the Church’s incredibly strict code of conduct for its missionaries. Still, this is when I started to love the holiday. I found out Koreans have a tradition of, instead of staying up, waking up early on New Year’s Day and taking a winter hike to see the first sunrise of the year. I loved this idea, and loved the cold, fresh, beautiful hikes.

My love for the holiday has increased since then. When I met my now-husband, I finally had someone to go out and have fun with on the holiday. In fact, it was our third New Year’s together, at midnight, that he proposed to me. Last New Year’s, driving home and wanted something to listen to, I stumbled on an interview with Ruth Soukup with Elite Blog Academy, without which I would never have started this blog.

Most of all, though, I have come to love the holiday because of the fresh start it gives. I love being able to look ahead at the coming year and think of all the wonderful things that are waiting, about how much better I’ll be. Just as much, I love being able to bid good riddance to the not-so-good things that happened during the year that is ending.

With that thought, I wanted to share six of the New Year’s traditions I’ve gathered over the years. I hope they will help you feel excitement and optimism about this wonderful new start.

1. Burn the old year

New Year’s is about looking backward as well as forward. A long time ago, I heard that the month of January was named for the Roman god Janus—a god with two faces, one to look forward, and one to look behind, just like we do with a new beginning. Though I see Wikipedia says the name might actually come from the single-faced god Juno, I prefer the former story for its powerful symbolism.


Though the New Year’s holiday is about looking forward to what’s coming, it’s also a good time to put the past behind you. And I know from experience that sometimes stuff happens that you really have to put behind you. One way to do it? Literally burn it.

I don’t remember where I first heard this idea, but it was incredibly satisfying when I tried it: Write down everything bad about the past year on paper, then take it somewhere else safe and contained, and put a match to it.

Let it all burn.

Watch it go up in smoke. Then move on.

2. Celebrate your wins

I tend to get anxious at the end of the day. It’s easy to focus on everything I didn’t get done, on everything negative about the day. One of the therapists I’ve worked with once suggested that, during these moments, I make a mental list of what went right.

This little exercise has made a huge difference over the years. And I think it applies to the new year, as well. The previous idea was a suggestion for dealing with what didn’t go right during the previous year; it can also mean so much to focus on what did go right. The things that did work. What you did accomplish. Taking some time to reflect (and maybe right down) the positives of the previous year is also a great way to move on from it.

This feels like a good moment to mention how being a stepmom went over the previous year. I went into becoming a stepmom with expectations for what it would be like, and for the relationship I would have with my stepdaughters. How could I not? It has been painful when those expectations haven’t happened. This year, I started figuring out the pattern, and started to take a step back. I’ve started to develop a philosophy of having low expectations—but then celebrating each positive activity and encounter.

When one of my stepdaughters and I have a meaningful conversation, when I genuinely have fun with them, when someone actually listens to my advice, when they want to eat something I’ve cooked, when we laugh—those moments feel really good. I try to scoop them up and admire how pretty they are and keep them in my pocket. I try to treasure and celebrate those moments when they happen. Without having expectations for them. Just enjoying them when they come.

I think this attitude can be helpful when looking back on things, too. Remember those happy moments. Enjoy how they feel. Treasure them. And remember the joy.

3. Take a hike

A hike with my parents on New Year's Day, 2011

I mentioned my time in Korea, and the delightful tradition of taking a hike bright and early on New Year’s Day. Like I’ve also mentioned, I find the new year so exciting. It’s exciting to look ahead of you, when everything is a possibility. You have a perfect, fresh, clean slate. A blank sheet of paper, just waiting to be filled. Those morning New Year’s hikes I’ve taken have been filled with sunshine and possibility. Especially if you’re not a night owl, I encourage you to try it. Bonus points for sitting down with a bowl of dduk gook soup (like the Koreans do) after.

4. Make some non­-smart goals

I’m sure at some point, someone told you how you’re supposed to make goals. SMART goals, they call them. Only if your goal is “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound” will you achieve your goal.

As a lover of the New Year’s holiday, boy, I’ve made a whole lot of new year’s resolutions. I’ve made charts where I can check them off, print-outs where I can remember exactly what they are, and month-by-month plans to make my year amazing.

Last year, I threw it all out the window. I was tired of the stupid SMART goals that I so often had lost my attention and enthusiasm for by spring. Instead, at the end of 2018, I sat down, thought about what I wanted to accomplish during the year—but focusing on the big picture. What’s important to me? What do I value? How do I want to change? What do I want to include more of? This resulted in six simple statements:

Be happy

Be healthy

Be consistent

Be creative

Work hard

Work smart

I assembled these six statements with a photo and made them the screen saver and wallpaper on my cell phone. They have stayed there the entire year—but more significant, I think, is how they shaped my year.

Be happy? I spent more time trying to focus on the positive, and treasuring happy moments. I started a meditation practice, and learned about Buddhism, and tried to remember how nothing is permanent. I prioritized my mental healthcare, including doctor appointments, therapy, and medications.

Be healthy? I worked out regularly. I tried keto for the first time. Keto. My goal of being creative was also a big part of creating (and then spending time on) this blog. It was also an impetus in sending my first two story pitches to other publications (which were completely ignored—but you have to start somewhere!). Being consistent and working hard and smart were my mantras as I completed the prerequisites to be able to apply to physician assistant school—which I got accepted to.

Did I do perfectly? No. Working smart is especially something I still need to figure out. But this was the best year ever for New Year’s resolutions. Because they actually worked. They changed my year.


5. Look back at your year with others

My husband talks a lot about how he values experiences over things. He tries to try new stuff and travels to new places. He also works hard to find new things to do with his two girls, my stepdaughters—this year their main Christmas presents from him were a motorcycle license course (older daughter) and a flying lesson (younger daughter).

This is part of what makes buying presents for him pretty difficult. There is one present he reliably loves, though: Photos. He loves the photo books I make him for Valentine’s Day, and the photo tiles I’ve gotten for him for the wall. During the last couple of years, he has also started a tradition of a year-end slideshow of what we’ve done as a family with the four of us.

He showed us this year’s recently, and I was surprised how much we all seemed to enjoy it. We were reminded of fun things we did together—I realized I didn’t remember all the details of the year while looking back, and it was neat to re-live some good moments. We also laughed together. A lot. And talked to each other. It was really neat. I love that he took the time to put it together, and I loved looking back at the year all together.

Since I love the holiday, last year, I also spent a little time trying to think of a way to acknowledge it the four of us together (since the girls are off with friends). With some searching online, I came up with a little questionnaire about the year that was past, and the year ahead of us. I made my husband and stepdaughters each fill one out along with me at New Year’s last year. I sealed them up in envelopes, and after our year-end slideshow, I handed them out. My oldest stepdaughter’s prediction in the “news” category was that Trump would get impeached! Politics aside 😉 it was awesome to look back together at the time we spent together.

In conclusion…

If I haven’t said it enough, I love the New Year’s holiday. I love the chance to look back. I love the bright possibilities and excitement of looking forward. No year is ever going to be perfect. Every year will include hard things, and that isn’t always the most fun to think about. I get excited about the possibilities, but I know the new year won’t just be bright and shiny.

At the same time, even with that fact, I feel like, as the years go on, I become better. Part of that is the hard stuff—and part of it is the good, and enjoying the good. As a year passes, I grow up a little more, I learn a little more. I figure out how to better deal with things. I also like myself a little more, become a little more capable.

I hope the next year gives us happy moments to savor, and experiences that help us keep growing into who we really are.

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