6. The Most Unexpected Compliment You Ever Got

I will never forget the day in high school when I was driving somewhere and my friend's cute older brother told me, from the backseat, that I had nice shoulders. I had never in my life considered my shoulders and certainly never, ever considered they might be nice. It was so unexpected and so unusual that I was forced to conclude it must be true. What was the most unexpected compliment you ever got? The time your co-worker said, "You know, he's really smart—like you"? The time your toddler heard Aretha Franklin singing and wondered aloud if it was you? Store it up for those times when you really need a random "Nice shoulders!" and the world is not complying.

7. That One Quote

You know the one—it's that line that makes even the worst day seem better.

8. The Best Surprise You've Ever Had

Whether it was a 40th birthday party you never saw coming or a family member who joined the crew in an unexpected way, life always has a way of shaking us up when we least expect it. Big or small, what surprise has warped your life for the better?

9. Your True Happiness

Without thinking too much about it, describe in as much detail as possible your perfect happiness. It can be a remembered instant of bliss or a ludicrous long shot, but whatever it is—a sunny picnic in a meadow, skydiving in Thailand—may offer a clue as to how to get happy in those moments when you really, really aren't. (As in, I know I can't nestle in a bed surrounded by books in the middle of a stressful afternoon, but maybe I can steal five minutes to reread a favorite paragraph of something.) And the act of lingering over each (possibly imagined) detail may just create its own tiny getaway.

10. Your Favorite Failure

Alright, now that we've covered the good stuff, let's talk about the biggest, most glorious, crashing-in-flames failure in your life. If you're doing this life thing right, it's probably almost too painful to admit, almost too difficult to record the depths you once found yourself in. The relationship you really wanted to work that crumbled beneath you, the graduate degree you never finished your thesis to earn, the dream job you almost, but didn't, get. If, as you write, you start to realize how this failure was not really a failure after all, but evidence of having taken a great risk and survived and learned, how it gave you a chance to see what you were really made of, great. But the epiphany is optional. The important part is just to write it down, to face it, to know it happened and that you lived through it—and just watch, see if you don't feel unaccountably lighter afterward (even if only slightly).

11. An Amendment to the Bucket List

Does anyone else out there get stressed out by bucket lists? You know, you look at the list you stuck to your fridge, thinking it would inspire you, and instead you find yourself plunged into despair because you not only have no idea what to make for dinner but also are totally never going to skydive over the desert, and you know it. You don't even really want to anymore! Here's a revolutionary idea: Amend the Life List. Cross off skydiving if you like; just be sure to add something new. Maybe your idea of adventure has changed. Maybe you'd really rather learn to crochet bazonky-looking coral reef creatures. Write it down. If you give yourself permission to change your mind later, there's really no risk now, is there?


Next Story