I fully embrace the time-honored tradition of year-end lists. I happily read the Top 10 Books of the Year (along with the endless sub-genres), dutifully sample as many of the Albums of the Year as possible, and fill the Netflix queue with the shows and films I’m told are better than the rest. Put a curated guide to the best gifts in front of me and I’ll click it without hesitation. I find the mix of curation and expertise appealing. It’s why the favorite things people share on Uncommon are so fascinating. If you can only choose 10 things, what would you pick? Any answer to that question is worth reading.
Each year, my family creates our own list of favorites. We started the year my son was born and have done it annually since. It’s now an essential part of every December 31st.
The list consists of everything from favorite albums and restaurants to apps and places to go. Each of us answers for ourselves. The debates and surprises are great fun, but the best part is looking back at previous years and seeing how things change.
Watching your child’s tastes evolve from Little Bear to The Wire is fascinating, of course, but my own favorites are much more malleable than I would guess. I’m often amazed that I once loved a certain movie or dessert. Other times, I’m reminded to revisit a past favorite I’d forgotten about.
Then there are the restaurants, websites, even hobbies that have since gone away. As some things fade, new topics are added, like favorite apps.
The final questions are the ones I enjoy revisiting the most. The first asks about the least favorite parts of the year. These range widely in significance, from mowing the lawn to stressful jobs or a family member’s diagnosis. It’s good to name things for what they are and be reminded of those difficult seasons later. It can be a wistful experience, certainly, but there's strength and wisdom to be found as well.
The second asks about favorite experiences of the year. I love capturing those singular moments that stood out above all others. It could be a concert or trip, job offer or act of kindness. I always enjoy ending the year with those moments (and those that brought joy to my family) on my mind.
If you have yet to do something similar, I highly recommend starting the tradition. It’s fun solo, with a partner or friends, and definitely with kids. You'll find yourself eagerly awaiting the next opportunity when December arrives again.
To make it easy to get started, there’s a handy Trello board just for you. (Of course, choosing a nice journal is a splendid idea, too, but this will give you a quick introduction.)
The board gathers together all of the topics in one place with a list for each year. If you use Trello (it's free and great, if not), you can copy the board and start making it your own. Add your own questions, drop ones that don’t fit, and reorganize all you like. Enjoy!
The last dispatch asked, Which of your early wishes do you most remember?
I can't remember any early wishes as I seem to have a tendency to go for the biggest things like 'I wish there is peace on earth', and well... When it doesn't happen I tell myself a wish is just a wish. It may sound a little pessimistic but I guess I'm afraid of disappointment.
I asked for a Commodore 64. My 8-year-old brain had never wanted anything more. (Except for the BMX bike a year earlier.) I knew it was a stretch for my parents financially—I had two teenage sisters who had their own wish lists—but they had always made the "big gift" happen each year. And this was the ONLY thing I wanted; I had made that abundantly clear.
Christmas night rolled in, the ham wedged into the fridge with the rest of the leftovers, and there was no Commodore 64 hooked up to our TV. Not even a lowly Vic-20. I had not made a big deal about this—never even mentioned it—knowing I was old enough to know that you didn't get angry for not getting something you wanted for Christmas. But inside... Inside I was burning.
As I sat on the couch thumbing a Matchbox car or a LEGO set or some other obviously inferior gift, my parents sat down and told me that they knew I had wanted a Commodore 64 that year, and they were really proud of how I had handled not getting it.
This was one of those life-lessons, and I knew it even then. It sucked, like they almost always do. But then...
After they gave me the proverbial hair-rustle of pride, my father, with what he would call a "shit-eating grin" on his face, reached behind the couch and lifted out a wrapped box that perfectly fit a Commodore 64. Minutes later, I was writing my first lines of BASIC. Hours later, I had put together a few more LEGO sets. Weeks later, the Commodore 64 was covered in dust.
Thanks, mom and dad.
In case you have a little extra reading time over the holidays, we've curated this prodigious collection on Uncommon reads to help out :)
How our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult by David Roberts (thanks, Jennifer):
We should recognize that by shrinking our network of strong social ties to our immediate families, we lose something important to our health and social identities, with the predictable result that we are ridden with anxiety and loneliness. We are meant to have tribes, to be among people who know us and care about us.
When Does Gratitude Bring Better Health? by Susan Pincker:
Counting one’s blessings, as opposed to life’s annoyances, seems to bring with it all kinds of benefits: resilience, better health, a rosier outlook—even a longer, more restful night’s sleep and a sense of connectedness to other people.
If the internet is addictive, why don’t we regulate it? by Michael Schulson:
When you read enough articles about internet compulsion and distraction, you start to notice a strange pattern. Writers work themselves into a righteous fury about prevalence and potency of addict-like behaviours. They compare tech companies to casino owners and other proprietors of regulated industries. And then, at the peak of their rage, they suggest it’s the users – not the designers – who should change.
Addicted to Distraction by Tony Schwartz:
In a matter of moments, I was back in a self-reinforcing cycle. By the next day, I had given up trying to cut back my digital life. I turned instead to the simpler task of resisting diet soda, alcohol and sugar.
Can't Put Down Your Device? That's by Design by Natasha Singer:
“The ‘I don’t have enough willpower’ conversation misses the fact that there are 1,000 people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down the self-regulation that you have.”
The Tail End by Tim Urban (thanks, Sarah):
Most of the things I just mentioned happen with a similar frequency during each year of my life, which spreads them out somewhat evenly through time. If I’m around a third of my way through life, I’m also about a third of my way through experiencing the activity or event.
What I’ve been thinking about is a really important part of life that, unlike all of these examples, isn’t spread out evenly through time—something whose [already done / still to come] ratio doesn’t at all align with how far I am through life: relationships.
Happy Winter Solstice
This year of Uncommon was full of wonderful moments and milestones. It’s incredible to see this community take root. Ours is truly a community of possibilities, and great things await us in 2016. Thanks for making this small corner of the Internet an inspiring, encouraging, uncommon place. If you're not a member yet, we've saved a chair for you on the front porch.
What's your most memorable New Year's Eve?