When do you feel most alive? Is it when your heart gets stuck in your throat, when you accomplish a difficult task, or when you reach the perfect flow state? Is it when you laugh so hard you give yourself hiccups, or when the landscape is so beautiful it takes your breath away? Maybe it’s when you’re in love, travel to exotic locations, or dance in the rain.
Ten years ago, I created a new end-of-year tradition. In addition to setting New Year’s resolutions, I ask myself one very important question: What Makes You Feel Most Alive?
What Moment Made You Feel Most Alive This Year?
I close my eyes, think about the past year, and reflect on the moments that brought me the greatest joy. What moment made me feel more alive than any other?
I picture that magical event in my mind. Then ask:
- Where was I?
- What was I doing?
- Who was I with?
Some years it isn’t easy to narrow down the events into one specific moment. This year I had a ridiculous number of moments to choose from, but one in particular stuck out in my mind.
The Moment I Felt Most Alive
I eyed the water slides over and over again. They loomed high in the sky, past the kiddie pools and lazy river—a series of weaving tubes in bright green, blue, orange, and yellow.
I’d ridden on a few earlier in the day, but not the tallest ones or the ones with the steepest vertical drops. “It’s not so scary,” my brother said, but that didn’t stop my heart from racing.
“I have to go,” I told myself. The park was closing in fifteen minutes, and I was running out of time to gather my courage. I marched across the pavement and climbed the nine-story high metal platform straight to the top.
The stairs were empty. As I climbed, I questioned my decision. Why on Earth did I feel compelled to ascend these lonely stairs? Why did my feet keep moving forward when my mind said to turn around?
When I reached the top of the platform, the water park attendant stood all alone. A blue slide stood to my right and a green one to my left. The sound of gushing water was all I could hear.
I told the park employee I was terrified because I was. You can’t fathom the height of those slides until you are standing at the very top of one.
“If you are scared, do not take the blue one,” he said.
I climbed onto the top of the green slide. “Cross your arms, cross your feet, rest your head back against the slide, and do not move,” he said. “The system will countdown.”
The plastic shell enveloped me. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and suddenly felt the floor drop from beneath my feet.
Why does it feel so good to feel alive? During that drop, I didn’t think about the bills I needed to pay, my future employment, or any of my family responsibilities. I may have forgotten I had children altogether.
I thought about nothing but the sensation of my body moving at heart-racing speed. The thrill of that moment stayed with me for the rest of the summer.
It was the first time in a very long time that I let myself go. The first time that I felt truly alive in quite a while.
A Highlight Reel of the Past Year
Why should we focus on year-end reflection? Thinking about the past provides incredible insights into our mental health and wellness. It is an indicator of our current state of mind. It also impacts our thoughts, feelings, and motivations in the future.
What happens when you look back at your highlight reel? When you cruise through the timeline on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or simply through the memories in your mind? Do those moments and accomplishments make you feel alive, excited, and inspired?
Does this year look the same way you hoped it would last January? Did you end up where you wanted by the end of it?
The Checklist Approach to Life
Here’s the truth. Many of us subscribe to the checklist approach to life. It goes something like this:
- Go to college. Check.
- Get a job. Check.
- Find a partner. Check.
- Get married. Check.
- Climb the corporate ladder. Check.
- Purchase a house. Check.
- Get a pet. Check.
- Have kids. Check.
- Go on vacation. Check.
- Work. Check.
- Retire. Check.
Some of us will accomplish all these things, while others will check off just a few. It doesn’t matter how long or short your list is, and that’s not the point. The real question isn’t how many check marks you’ve made. It’s what happens as you check off your list.
You feel utter joy. Pure and unadulterated pleasure? You stand back, admire your work and wait for the smile to spread across your lips. “Oh, come on, happiness,” you think. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
But what if instead of beaming with pride, you look around at your life and think, “Huh, I don’t feel happy, and I don’t feel invigorated or alive.”
Why Don’t You Feel Alive?
Why doesn’t that checklist fulfill us? Shouldn’t there be satisfaction in completing our goals? Yes and no.
The path to happiness and satisfaction is not a single, straight line. Take marriage, for example. I love my husband, but being in a relationship is ridiculously difficult. As the years progress, do I think more about the good times or the number of fights we’ve had?
The goals may be easy to accomplish. Getting married is the easy part, but it takes a lifetime of resolving issues and learning how to navigate the relationship. It’s a constant work in progress.
Children are another example. I love my children with all of my heart, but they produce excessive worry in my life. I worry more than I ever could have imagined. Am I happy that I had children? Most definitely, but childrearing can be unbearably painful at times.
What Moment Made You Feel Most Alive This Year?
Most of us won’t wake up happy every day, grinning from ear to ear. Not even after the checklist is complete, or we quit our jobs and retire to Bora Bora.
So go back to the question: What moment made you feel most alive this year?
Why should we ask ourselves this? Because life isn’t meant to be a checklist. In fact, checking off our goals is not as important as the journey we take to achieve them.
We can step through the motions from Point A (birth) to Point B (death) without feeling alive. We can fulfill our obligations and responsibilities without joy or excitement.
But we should not take our limited time for granted. We must pinpoint the moments that make us feel most alive and recreate them as often as possible.
What makes you feel most alive?
Reevaluate Your Journey
Sometimes the burdens of life keep us trapped in a place of unhappiness. We continue to go to work to pay the bills that provide the life we thought we wanted to live.
When you reflect on the past year, ask yourself, “Are these the goals I want to pursue? Is this checklist worth completing, or are there elements that I should remove?”
Then think back to the moments that made you feel alive. How can you recreate those events or incorporate new ones into your goals? How can you feel excited about life and the moments that make up your days?
The Hard Times Also Make Us Feel Alive
Remember that positive moments are not the only ones that make us feel alive. Sometimes traumatic events remind us of our mortality and the desire to live an inspired life today.
Over the years, friends have come and gone, and death has taken away some of my favorite people.
From the depths of tragedy, I find my mindset changing. My dreams, goals, and thoughts shift my thinking and worldview.
Sometimes we can only build ourselves up after we feel decimated and destroyed. From the depths of pain and agony, we can emerge feeling stronger than we’ve ever felt before.
Do not discard these reminders. Feel the weight of their presence. Use your sorrow to make a better, brighter world.
Remember that your life won’t last forever. Invest in the moments that fill your soul with excitement and passion. When you recognize that your time is limited, you will find a way to follow your heart. Chase the moments that make you feel inspired and alive. Don’t let today pass by like any other mundane day. Create a better hope for your future.
I Feel Most Alive When I Embrace the Moment
Also, remember that the tiniest moments can leave the most lasting impressions. My children and I love to listen to music, so I play tunes on the way to and from school each day. Sometimes a song is still playing when I pull into the driveway.
One afternoon the music was blaring, and my children and I sang at the top of our lungs. My four-year-old’s favorite song in the whole wide world is “From Now On” from The Greatest Showman.
Rather than turning off the car, I turned up the music. My boys unstrapped their car seats, and we belted the lyrics together.
They smiled, sang, and danced in the back of the car on an ordinary day in the middle of September. These are the moments I live for. Singing that five-minute song with my children was nearly as exhilarating as my trip down the water slide.
The lyrics of that song read:
“I drank champagne with kings and queens
The politicians praised my name
But those are someone else’s dreams
The pitfalls of the man I became
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for”
As you perform your year-end reflection, think carefully about those words. Remember not to let someone else write your checklist. The goals should be yours and yours alone.
What we think we want out of life, what others want for us, and what we want are rarely the same. Reflecting on these moments can help us refocus our goals.
I feel most alive when I fully embrace the moment, so I vow to be more present each and every day.
How to Feel More Alive This Year
After you complete your year-end reflection, think forward to next year. Then consider making a new year’s resolution to feel more alive. These four actions might help you:
- Say something you’ve been meaning to say
- Try something you’ve always wanted to try
- Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go
- Do something you thought you couldn’t do
- Go where you feel most alive
Most importantly, pay attention to the aspects of your life that fill your heart and spirit with passion and excitement. Try to focus on feeling alive. If you do, you’ll have an even better answer next year.
The more you seek out moments that make you feel alive the more alive you will feel. When do you feel most alive? What makes you feel that way?