The Gifts of 2020

We’re all painfully aware of the losses this year has inflicted: millions of people infected with a baffling new disease; hundreds of thousands of people dead; countless more with lingering health effects; millions of businesses closed, some permanently, and our lives completely disrupted. This year has upended everything from how we work and go to school to how we socialize, marry, bury our dead, and even how we can spend the holidays.

However, one of the Insights I use to encourage myself and others is, “Even in disaster, look for the good.”

Yes, 2020 was a disaster in many ways. Did it also bring us anything good?

When I examine my own personal circumstances, I give thanks for a new grandson this year. In addition to the joy a newborn brings, it is a thrill for me to see my own son step into the role of father.

Twenty-twenty also brought me the opportunity to spend more time with my wife, Loralee; to devote more time and attention to getting some of my research papers published; to improve my health by sleeping more; and to try intermittent fasting and, fairly effortlessly, lose a significant amount of weight!

Many other people used their “lockdown” for more ambitious goals. For those able to work from home, the lockdown reduced living expenses to housing, utilities, and food. Gone were previous expenditures on commuting, dining out, clothing, and business travel, as well as vacations and entertainment. No sporting events, concerts, theater, or even movies. As a result, many Americans became serious savers, acquiring the down payment for a home, or paying off college loans, car loans, and consumer debt. Back in April 2020, the savings rate for Americans hit 33%–a record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Since we’ve had to spend significantly more time at home this year, many people undertook home improvement projects. Retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot have reported record sales, as Americans took steps to repair or beautify their residence, realizing that there really is “No place like home.”

Millions of people also acquired pets this year. Nationwide adoption rates were up by as much as 30%—and shelters in some areas were even emptied as Americans now had both the time and desire to care for an animal. Pets also filled the need for companionship and touch that was otherwise lacking for many single people this year.

Still others have used 2020 to acquire new skills—such as learning to play an instrument, or speak another language—or return to an old hobby, such as knitting, baking, photography, or gardening. For example, Fender, a leading American guitar-maker, posted record-breaking sales this year. Gibson, Martin, and Taylor also reported big increases in sales. Other businesses, such as Zoom, YouTube, and various delivery services, stepped into fill the void left when we could no longer be in physical contact with family, friends, and co-workers, while still other businesses found a niche to lift our spirits with creative mask designs.

Of course, Americans also used lockdown to binge-watch their favorite television shows or veg-out on video games. But more of us also read books, listened to podcasts, and took up meditation, or yoga, or both.

Very touchingly, people around the world inspired us with their creativity and desire to boost our collective spirits. I think of Italians singing to each other from their balconies; New Yorkers stopping each evening at 7 and loudly proclaiming their thanks to Covid-19 frontline healthcare workers, honking horns, banging pots and pans, and cheering from their windows. I think of the many amateur and professional entertainers who wrote, choreographed, sang, and recorded musical theater to share with us–from this Kent family’s rendition of “One Day More,” from Les Miserables, to the original cast of Hamilton performing a socially distanced version of “The World Turned Upside Down,” to people around the world dressing up to take out the trash–purely to entertain themselves and their neighbors.

And of course we were inspired–and hugely grateful–to the thousands of frontline healthcare workers who risked so much to take care of us all.

It’s interesting that “20-20” is the term we use for perfect vision. This year certainly gave us a chance to take a closer look at who and what are in our lives right now and, either appreciate what we have or take steps for improvement. People under lockdown have asked themselves what matters and reconsidered some of their previous choices. Rather than constantly rushing into the future to acquire more, 2020 forced us to stop and make the best of what we already have.

Twenty-twenty also reinforced the need to plan for adequate self-care. As my friend Mikki Taylor said in our recent interview, “Self-care is not an option, but it IS a necessity.” If we don’t plan and schedule it, who will? Once we realize that “Happiness resides within,” we understand that we alone can cultivate it.

Finally, 2020 has made me appreciate even more the importance of in-person relationships. Although I’m grateful for technologies like Skype, Zoom, and Facetime that have helped us communicate with family members, friends, and co-workers, I look forward to socializing in person next year. I look forward to exchanging hugs again. I look forward to holding my grandchildren.

Sometimes it takes losing something to fully appreciate it.

A friend of mine who works in a high school that has been able to adopt a “hybrid” schedule—in which students divide their days between online teaching and in-person classes—with only half of the students attending school any given day—says, laughing, that there have been NO discipline problems on campus this fall. “The students are so happy to be in school!” she says.

Yes, sometimes it takes losing something to fully appreciate it.

May you fully appreciate the gifts that are present in your life this holiday season! And remember that

“The best is yet to come. You just have to let it enter.”

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