Your wedding day. The day you got fired. The birth of your first child. The moment you fell in love. The day someone special died. Your big promotion. Crossing the finish line of your first marathon. Seeing your favorite band live in concert. Signing the papers to buy your first house or your own business. Signing your divorce papers.
These are defining moments in our lives, the ones that come with such extreme emotions attached that they are forever carved in the rock of our memories. When someone mentions that day or that moment, you can conjure up the visual—and often the feeling—in an instant. They leave a marker on you, like a GPS homing signal that is easily returned to.
Such is the way with significant moments. The memory of that moment remains, even if the event ultimately has very little impact on how you see the world and, consequently, how you live your life over the long haul. While there are undoubtedly a rare few events that instantly shock your system into a whole new worldview—a near-death experience or even perhaps the birth of a child—typically major shifts in your mindsets and happiness levels take some time. These periods may include defining moments—the months on both sides of my daughter’s birth were part of a bigger shift for me—but are seldom built on one moment alone.
I have spent the last year-and-a-half studying and taking notes on my daily journal entries covering the last 20 years, basically all of my adult life. One of the questions I wanted an answer to was this: was there a year that changed it all? Was there one stretch of time that saw my thinking, my attitude, my emotions—my worldview—change so drastically and permanently that my time on earth could be marked as a “Pre-“ and “Post-“ that time? The answer was, in a word, “YES!”
My year that changed everything began in the late Spring of 1997. I was 24 years old and had already experienced one pretty dramatic shift in my life a few years earlier when I bucked my (and everyone else’s) expectations and quit the life of a straight-A Pre-Med student to bounce around the country studying acting (NOTE: I ranked this as #3 in my worldview-changing years, with #2 being the mind-blowing period surrounding the birth of my first child—most of you parents out there can probably relate). That change had liberated me to a great degree in terms of defining my own path, but I still held most of my same thought patterns from before. I was subject to emotional highs and lows, feelings of disconnect from the world and the people in it, and a lack of clarity about my true nature. It wasn’t a matter of a typical 20something not sure of his career path or wishing for the love of his life to come along; I was fine with those things. I was a regular guy who dealt with the usual ups and downs, hopes and fears, as most adults do throughout their lives.
But then came my year. I think the process began when I started reading books about spirituality and other topics that got my soul stirring. I got into yoga for the first time. I started to write in my journal more frequently. All of these things helped me to greatly expand my view of myself and my connectedness to the Divine. Then came a momentous decision to change from thinking of enlightenment and the expansion of my mind as a hobby to thinking of it as a way of life. In that moment, it struck me that I had to leave my life in California and wander around Europe, something I had never before that moment considered. Those last two months in California found me defining myself not as a starving actor but simply a happy person. I left there and had no idea where I would live when I returned from Europe. I jumped into uncertainty, following the subtle instructions of my inner voice.
The day I left for Europe was the day that my journal habit became a daily one. The entries from that trip, and the months that followed it, show no more traces of unhappiness. I was wandering alone for months, with not much food and even less money, yet I had never felt so sustained in my life. There was never a bad mood or a bad day, despite all of the challenges that one encounters on such an adventure. The entries describe one blissful day after another, each one increasing in self-knowledge and connectedness to God. There were even a couple of moments of transcendence, when I felt myself actually leave my body in a state of Divine Peace.
On that trip and in the months that followed, I was truly undergoing a complete spiritual overhaul, and it was wonderfully liberating. It made me understand and feel myself to be fully Divine and fully connected with everyone else, and I came to believe that since I am—indeed, we ALL are–part of the Divine Source, the end is not in doubt. That is a pretty powerful belief! There is not much to fight about or fret about after that. It is, as I said, liberating.
With any spiritual overhaul, a psychological and emotional overhaul comes included in the package. That is where the unbounded happiness enters the picture. I went from a guy who went through the usual ups and downs that people go through, to a guy who was practically oozing Joy, Peace, and Love. I was just so grateful for all of the wonderful gifts I had been granted. And of course, that gratitude becomes exponentially greater when you come to view everything as a gift, when you encounter only angels and miracles, when you see God wherever you look.
During this period of late 1997 and early 1998, which at the time I dubbed “The Season of Enrichment”, I devoted “my time and energy to bettering myself in the hopes of bettering the world”, as I would describe it in a journal entry at that time. I was reading like a madman, tons of spiritual, nonfiction, and fiction books that inspired me. I fell in love with writing, and my journal entries were long and filled with passion and purpose. I was becoming clear on so many things, and it seemed as though my foundation was unshakable.
It is this foundation idea that makes that year the one that—far and away—changed everything for me. You see, the remarkable thing about not just the worldview I was coming to embody, but, more importantly, the deep, complete happiness and gratitude, is that they have sustained. Life circumstances have changed—career, family, and financial stressors didn’t magically disappear—but my deep-seated Happiness and Peace carry on through it all. The foundation has shown itself, indeed, unshakable. It was a magical time in my life, that year, but its greatest trick was in making every year since then feel increasingly magical. I certainly feel like the luckiest man alive, and I know exactly when I started feeling that way. It was the year that changed everything.
So, what was your year that changed everything? Get out your journal and start to write your thoughts. Explore your life. Can you pinpoint an era that shaped the way you view the world? Who was involved? Was it centered around one of those defining moments, like falling in love or having a child? Did it make your worldview more positive or more negative? Search your memory deeply on this one, and realize that you probably cannot name the year. That’s right, it is quite common to maintain your general outlook and thought patterns from a very young age, so don’t feel ashamed or unenlightened if you cannot come up with a defining year. Still, ask yourself, how do I see the world? How happy am I? How connected do I feel, both to the people around me and to something greater?
Who knows, the day you finally take me up on my offer and write your first journal entry just might be the first day of your Year That Changed Everything. I dare you to find out!
Celebrate your life today,