2020 was not an easy year by any means. But now that it’s finally winding down and we’re still here, it’s time to look back with introspection at all the things this challenging year has taught us about ourselves, if only to make sure we’re walking out of it having gained something to offset everything we may have lost along the way.
Here are some priceless lessons 2020 taught us about ourselves:
1. Health is everything
School, business, travel, and pretty much everything else took the backseat this year in the interest of public health. This is a humbling lesson for all of us to prioritize our health, both physical and mental. 2020 has taught us that glorifying overworking takes us nowhere, because jobs are temporary but good health is the only true treasure we have, without which there’s no way to fully enjoy everything that life has to offer.
2. We are strong enough
Again, 2020 was straight up crazy. Just making it to 2021 is a feat in and of itself, and the fact that we’re still here, trying to function everyday despite all the trauma, uncertainty, and grief we’re experiencing is a testament to how much we are capable of enduring. This year, we watched in horror as our carefully-laid life plans came crashing down, yet we trudge on, taking life a day at a time, finding reasons to hope that things will eventually change for the better. If that’s not strength, then nothing is.
3. But we’re capable of slowing down
Despite all the strength we have within, 2020 also taught us that it’s perfectly okay to slow down. During the first weeks of the pandemic, it felt absolutely jarring not having our calendars filled with meetings, engagements, and other activities that can be considered productive. We suddenly had the time to bake, learn a new language or start working through the pile of unread books we’ve accumulated over the years – and the world didn’t stop turning. Even if things eventually return to normal, we should be reminded that nothing bad will happen if we excuse ourselves from the grind culture every now and then to enjoy things that make life worth living.
4. We are never truly certain of anything
Another valuable lesson 2020 forced us to learn is that there’s really no way to plan every aspect of the rest of our lives. We actually go through life mostly unaware of what could happen. This could be either terrifying or exhilarating, depending on which perspective you wish to take.
5. We are more adaptive than we think
In relation with the previous point, the lesson to be learned really is that we as humans are more adaptive and flexible than we give ourselves credit for. Some of us successfully pivoted to new careers and found new ways to generate income all in a matter of months. That deserves major kudos. After all, there may be comfort in chasing stability, but being open and adaptive to life’s surprises is a valuable skill that we can all embrace in the pursuit of happiness.
6. It’s never too late to learn new things
Regardless of age, 2020 gave all of us a golden opportunity to learn new things and take on new hobbies. This completely busted that classic myth about old dogs and new tricks. Learning is truly lifelong and doesn’t halt when we graduate from school. What we have to understand is that not all learning should be pursued in the interest of profit generation. Some things we can learn just to fill our time with gentle things that keep the soul at ease. Some things we learn just to have more things in common with people we value in our lives. Some things we can learn just for the heck of it.
7. Enjoying one’s own company is key
As we were mostly confined to our own homes in self-isolation this year, it became increasingly clear how important it is that we enjoy our own company. Spending time with family and friends is good, but they won’t always be available when we are. Therefore, at the end of the day, we should be able to find peace with ourselves.
8. It’s the little things that matter
Wearing face masks, religiously washing our hands, and avoiding close contact with other people – these are small adjustments we’ve had to make this year, but they made all the difference in keeping us safe.
Likewise, in the temporary absence of grandiose things that made us happy like traveling across the world, we learned to turn our attention to little things that brought us happiness – like catching up with friends online and curling up in bed with a good book and a cup of good coffee.
Life doesn’t always have to be complicated. We can all get by with these seemingly little things.
9. Hobbies can save our sanity
Having hobbies for the sake of having them seemed like a lost art in our modern world that was defined by 40-hour work weeks, but 2020 taught us that hobbies can help us destress while keeping ourselves mentally productive. Hopefully, when all this is over, all of us can hold on to at least one of the hobbies we picked up during the pandemic.
10. There are a lot of things we take for granted
Sometimes, we only learn the value of things once they are taken away from us. For instance, some of us postpone visiting our parents week after week, always assuming we can always go next time, when we’re less busy or when things aren’t so hectic. This year taught us that we should not let these opportunities pass us by, because we never know what might happen.
Even the sheer privilege of getting to smell and taste our food was put to question this year, one that undoubtedly most of us have overlooked for years. It’s easy to take things for granted in life, but hopefully 2020 has taught us to seize each day as it comes and to be thankful of all the privileges we get to enjoy daily.
11. Our actions have far-reaching impact
It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that our actions only affect ourselves. This year, we were awakened to the fact that our lives are significantly more interconnected than we think. Even the actions of people we don’t know had a way of affecting us at the height of the pandemic.
Moving forward, this should serve as a reminder to all of us that the actions we might think of as ‘harmless’ are not completely so. The butterfly effect is real. For example, dropping a pea-sized piece of plastic on the street because we think it won’t produce any huge, lasting effects should be viewed in terms of how it would impact the planet and its inhabitants in the long run.
12. Happiness is your own state of mind
Happiness is not retail therapy. It’s not in movie houses, or theme parks, or on a remote island in the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean. It’s not inherently connected with what we do for a living, or how much money we rake in a year. If you spent most of 2020 at home and still managed to find moments of happiness amidst the monotony, such as when cuddling your pet or taking a soothing, warm bath after a long day of remote work, you’ve already learned that happiness is actually pretty simple. In fact, it is deeply embedded within your own state of mind, and will be found where and when we wish for it to be found.
13. Still, we are social beings
Despite the fact that happiness is self-fulfilling and while we recognize that we must enjoy our own company, 2020 also taught us how much we value time spent with other people. The proliferation of drinking sessions on Zoom, watch party on Netflix or Disney+ and virtual game nights speak of our tendency to seek and maintain connections, especially in times of crises. We are, at the core, social beings, who rely on each other not only to survive – but also to thrive.
14. We can still have faith in humanity
A lot of things that have happened this year restored our faith in humanity. The sacrifice of healthcare workers who show up to work day after day despite the threat of contracting the deadly virus, as well as the kind gestures of people who extended their hand to help strangers even when they don’t have much in excess either are enough to remind us that we as humans are capable of doing so much good in the world.
15. Life is short and our time is precious
Finally, the biggest lesson of 2020 is that life is short. In fact, millions of people across the world did not survive the global health crisis. It is now upon the rest of us to take responsibility and use our remaining time to serve causes that are bigger than ourselves, in the hopes of leaving the world in a better state than we found it in. Time is precious, and eventually it will run out, so we really should make the most of it.
2020 may have been replete with challenges and adversity, but when you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way left to go is up. We need to welcome the coming years with all the lessons that we have learned this year, along with a renewed sense of hope that the road to global recovery will be much, much more forgiving than the year that is about to end.