(Warning: Viewpoints ahead from a position of major privilege.)
No getting around it: a lot of very bad things happened in 2020. Some of these things directly affected people’s lives, others made them worried for their future, and others made them despair about the state of the world.
I…er…had a pretty good year.
I ended the year fitter than I started it, more knowledgeable, having made progress in our business and achieved most of the goals I’d set.
Sure, some very bad things happened to family and friends and there were some experiences that were tough for me and my immediate family. But that’s nothing specific to 2020.
Privileged? Lucky? Yes and yes! Lots of people have had their livelihoods or the health of people they care about horribly affected by the events of 2020. And in general, it’s easy to be sanguine about political and social upheaval when you know you stand a better chance than most of being OK whatever plays out.
But there are millions of privileged and lucky people who decided early in 2020 that it was a terrible year…then went on to have one.
The difference between a good and bad year comes down to three things:
1: Where you direct your attention
Many people in 2020 spent hundreds of hours obsessing about R-numbers, worrying about which septuagenarian would run the US and being outraged by a whole number of things that are quite reasonable to be outraged about.
Did this help them? Did it make them feel good? Did they do anything useful with the information they gathered?
I’m not advocating total ignorance of what’s going on in the world, or not feeling angry and upset about the injustice in the world. I’m just saying that focusing on it constantly – without doing anything about it – doesn’t change anything or help anyone.
If you’re going to become well-informed about an issue so you can go out and advocate for people with less power than you and bring about helpful change, go ahead with my admiration. But if the only purpose is to signal to your peers on social media about all the worthy opinions you hold, I’d suggest there are better uses of your time.
2: Where you spend your time
Many people had more spare time than they expected in 2020 – due to a lack of commute, or a lack of the social activities they’d usually be doing.
Did you spend that hour of commuting time watching more Netflix (yes yes I know, The Queen’s Gambit was fantastic), or developing a healthy new exercise habit?
Did you spend your suddenly free evenings scrolling through Instagram or learning something new?
However seizmic the events going on in the world, they have very little effect on how you can spend your time. That’s up to you, and the choices you make can lead to very different results after a year – and even more when compounded over a decade.
3: Your attitude
Is the inability to take the trips you were planning a major downer, or an opportunity to explore places closer to home that you’d otherwise have overlooked?
Is having the kids trying to do video lessons from home an absolute bloody nightmare, or an opportunity to evaluate close-up the education they’re getting and think about how you’d like it to be different? (OK, it’s probably both at best.)
You can mentally put a completely different spin on the exact same set of events. It’s hard at first, but framing things positively is a habit you can work at until it becomes second-nature – and it completely transforms your experience of the world.
Admittedly, some experiences are so dreadful there’s no positive spin available. And some ongoing events like we’ve seen in 2020 (like being cut off from family members) can drain your “glass half full” attitude until it’s decidedly empty. But if you can look on the bright side of things where there is a bright side available, you’ll still have a better time than you otherwise would have done.
I sincerely hope that the events of 2021 make it easier for more people to have a good year. But what kind of year are you going to have? That’s for you to decide – and you can make that decision now.