Well, last year has definitely been one for the books. Every month seemed to get more challenging, more filled with ups and downs, more wracked with uncertainty. Now we face a January that looks, in many ways, like more of the same. But as difficult and disconcerting as the past year has been, there is still a lot to be hopeful about. You just have to know where to look.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to stay positive this January. My friend jots down a note on his iPhone every time something happens that makes him cheerful: the cupcake his downstairs neighbour left outside his door; a really great cup of coffee; a good news story. Another spent the second half of 2020 noting down everything she thinks she’s learned about herself. It could be anything from “I actually don’t love chocolate ice cream” to “I feel stronger when I talk to people about how I’m feeling”. They both ended the year with a list full of life affirmations, small things that felt big when viewed in context.
It’s not just small things that I’m excited for in 2021, though. Accountability culture is alive and well. We’ve never been as informed en masse as we are right now – and that’s something worth celebrating. We’ve all interacted with and added our voices to a news feed that holds governments and corporate entities accountable for their actions. We’re awakening as a society, and that means it’s harder for those in power to pull the wool over our eyes.
Lockdowns are beyond weird, and many of us (myself included) are missing our colleagues. But it’s also forced us all to think about the bits of our lives we always thought were ‘necessary’. Is spending three hours commuting each day necessary? Is jetting off on cheap holidays abroad, racking up air miles and global emissions worth it? Is the constant treadmill of work, socialising and staying sane really going to make us happy? In 2019, nearly half of global companies in one survey still prohibited remote working. Now we are entering a world where you can work from Jamaica if you want to. That’s got to be a good thing, a future to be hopeful about.
Even when people do stay close to their work, there could be a shift in working hours. Throughout Covid-19, the workday has expanded by two hours in Britain, France and Spain, and three in America. But society has never been more aware of the yawning gap between professional hours and childcare hours. According to organisational psychologist Adam Grant, who recently wrote an article in The Economist, “we can be every bit as creative and productive in six focused hours a day as in twice as many distracted hours”. Wouldn’t a shorter, more intense workday be a wonderful thing to strive towards in 2021?
His Economist article had some other pretty amazing statistics to get hopeful about. It found that the higher the unemployment rate when people enter the workforce, the more satisfied they end up being with their jobs – even 10 to 15 years later. That happens across all industries. The reason? People are grateful to have jobs. That might sound like it’s too far in the future to be exciting, but these profound shifts in public consciousness can be felt quickly too.
For one, when people do get to the top, they’re less likely to be jerks about it. In a study of over 2,000 chief execs of public companies, those who entered adulthood in a challenging financial climate were way less likely to overpay themselves – and their feelings of narcissism and entitlement were lower. And from your local supermarket to the nurse on a Covid ward, people are re-evaluating how important certain jobs are to the community.
2021 is unlikely to look like an easy ride, but it’s important to focus on all that’s good in the world. Have you found certain things make your day a little bit brighter and keep you hopeful? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org