The Words Guiding Me This Year

January 31, 2020

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Regular readers of Catching Happiness know that I usually choose a Word of the Year to guide me. This year is no different—in fact, I have two words that I will be keeping in the forefront of my mind as I navigate 2020.

This year, I’ve chosen the words free and soften as my words of the year.


Initially, I chose free because I’m going to do something this year that will make me feel more free—I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair.* I got my first gray hair at age 21, and though it took many years for more grays to appear, I’ve been coloring my hair for a good long time now, and I’m tired of the process. After I read about a possible link between breast cancer and permanent hair dye, that was it for me. I’m done. I have an aunt who had breast cancer, and I don’t need any more risk factors.

Thinking about no longer coloring my hair led me to thinking about what else I’d like to be free of. Things like expectations, caring what other people think about how I look and what I do, stories I tell myself that hold me back from having the happy life I want. I want to feel free to explore, expand, give, express my creativity, enjoy my simple pleasures and everyday adventures. 

When I looked up the definitions of free, I found some additional food for thought. The online definitions, from Merriam-Webster, included: enjoying civil and political liberty; enjoying personal freedom; choosing or capable of choosing for oneself; made, done or given voluntarily or spontaneously; relieved from or lacking something, especially something painful or burdensome; not bound or contained by force; having no obligations or commitments; not impeded or obstructed or restricted; capable of moving in any direction; frank/open; overly familiar or forward in action or attitude. As a verb, free means to relieve or rid of what restrains, confines, restricts or embarrasses.


Soften came to me one day when I was struggling to make something work. When life doesn’t immediately cooperate, my tendency is to tense up, struggle, and use force when I should soften and ease up. Maybe even let go. I’m often reminded of this in yoga class when I have a muscle cramp and must soften my pose or come out of it altogether. Softening—my attitude and my actions—causes me to slow down, and often averts an impending accident

Words working together

I believe that the combination of free and soften indicates to me that I want to explore being more flexible and relaxed. How this plays out in real life, with its work and responsibilities, remains to be seen. How can I have self-discipline but not too much, also remains to be seen.

Did you choose a word of the year this year? What do you think it means for you?

*Apparently, “going gray” is currently A Thing, with books and blogs devoted to the process. While I’m not planning to share much of my own transition publicly, I’ve heard that the process brings up a lot of emotions and beliefs about femininity, aging, etc., so it’s possible that I will eventually write about it. (And, of course, when my hair is fully transformed, I’ll have to post a new profile pic!)

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  1. Kathy I think both of your words are great...I identify with the soften one...seems the harder I struggle with something the harder it becomes :). As for the hair change...I may just do the same in the coming year. Will let you know how this works for me. Have a great weekend.

    1. Debbie--You're right, the harder I struggle, the harder it becomes.

      I'm two months in to no coloring, and my hair is looking...interesting ;) Yes, do keep me posted if you decide to join the "silver sisterhood."

  2. Love this, Kathy. Joyous and free...letting go often.every day, sometimes every minute. Learning to rely on a spirit guidance, following intuition, seems to help me...with others who work in this mode I get reinforcement often.
    Hair: My hair is starting to gray late in life, but I too have stopped putting blondy highlights in and I do look older. Yes, it is a powerful thing in our society. Have you read Nora Ephron's thoughts on women and aging and hair? I always thought young women with gray hair looked gorgeous. Transitions are challenging...

    1. I've have a copy of Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck, which I should probably pull down and reread. It's not like I've been fooling anyone about my age, anyway--it's more about how I felt about myself and not wanting to feel frumpy and unattractive. Vanity! Oh, well...

  3. PS Word guiding me this year is: Intention. Related: Conscious living. Mindful.

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