I didn’t know a thing about the concept of “Sunday Scaries” as a teenager, but that didn’t stop me from feeling them. They came for me at the end of each winter break; after two weeks of doing whatever I wanted, the thought of going back to school, with all its bells and math tests and rules, felt cruel and impossible. Until one year, when my genius brain came up with not necessarily a cure, but a worthy and good distraction. When I was feeling like simply no good would come of going back to school, I ended a melodramatic diary entry with a list of things I was excited about in the coming year. It included: lacrosse games, spring break, getting my driving permit, a geography class with my new crush, and “boys boys, and more boys."
The idea was to populate the list with both recurring and one-time events. I wanted stuff I could cross off as it happened (so fun, to cross stuff off a list!), and also things I could look forward to over and over again. I also wasn’t aware of this concept as a teen, but there’s legitimate, studied power in simply… writing something down; science continually shows a written-down goal is more likely to be achieved.
Nothing on the list was challenging; this wasn’t meant to be a collection of “resolutions” or “goals” in any sense. Certain things were perhaps “motivational”—the point about actually getting a homecoming date was really a bit of self-encouragement to be less afraid to talk to boys— but I didn’t want anything on the list to feel like pressure or make me feel bad. I just wanted something I could look at when the icky feeling creeped back and left me face-planted on top of my bed, something a little silly to defang my dread about the upcoming year, and to remember that there was actually a lot of cool stuff worth being excited about. I wrote the list out to 12 events, signed the bottom, and titled it, “HANNAH’S ANNUAL LIST OF THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO,” willing it to become a tradition.
I kept making the list through the rest of high school and into college, as the scaries made their inevitable return before the start of each spring semester. Eventually, the list became its own thing to look forward to. It was fun to think about all the promise of the new-ish year (because of the school schedule, I always ended up writing it a few days after New Year’s). I’d even start planning it in advance, getting excited about the prospect of… feeling excited. I remember getting pumped to write “prom,” “graduation!!!!!,” “my 18th birthday party,” and “moving away to college” on the list I made in [year redacted].
As I grew up a little bit, my lists did too. In college, my teen wishes were supplanted with a mixture of things that were equal parts ambitious and dumb, like “placing my first freelance story,” “making apple bongs with Breezy and Illyana,” and “going night swimming at Barton Springs.” I dutifully went back throughout the year and crossed stuff off as it passed, and always made sure to construct the list with some things (recurring events and vague, dateless events) that couldn’t be crossed off, so I never ran out of things to look forward to.
Looking at the collection of all the handwritten lists now is like looking at a personal highlight reel; they’re a record of some of my best days. Sometimes they’re so earnest, they’re almost embarrassing to read: Here are all the things I wanted most, all the big and small stuff that quelled the anxiety over the new year in my brain, and made me legitimately excited.
I still make the Annual List now, even though I’m an adult who doesn’t get to have winter break anymore. General “winter scaries” still exist in the wake of the holiday rush. I also still wait a few days into the new year to write the list, so it stays completely separate in my brain from any resolutions I may have made.
Even as the items on it have matured, but I still make sure the list doesn’t get too serious. The same general idea—wanting a reference of things I am mindfully enthusiastic about—remains the same. If anything, the list gets dumber and more menial every year, as the actual shit I have to do to be a person becomes more complicated and difficult. This past year’s included “paint my room,” and “go out to eat alone more often.”
Is this is all really just “anticipating doing normal stuff”? I recognize this is just me playing a very simple trick on my brain, but it’s a very effective one. As an adult, the list is just as much about looking forward to things as it is reflecting upon the previous year, and finding small ways to make my life just a little bit more fun. Things can be exciting if you just decide to look forward to them, and especially if you write them down in the first days of the year.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.