“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”  

Albert Einstein

Without any warning, the year 2020 unfolded and disrupted life as we knew it. It is undeniable that we were all affected by the pandemic and the changes that followed. To some degree, restrictions seem to have become the new normal. Although it is clear that the impact has been experienced differently among individuals, 2020 forced all of us to change. At least, on the outside. 

Change cannot be forced upon any of us. Temporary rules can modify our routine, restrictions can take away a certain freedom, but ultimately, true change happens within. Self-development starts when we realize that the way we used to think and behave no longer corresponds to the way we want to live. When we understand and accept this idea, a part of us has already shifted outside of our comfort zone. For many of us, 2020 has opened the door to welcome the change we needed. Will we walk through it? 

Last year, we realized that life can certainly be lived differently when our routine is reconfigured. We may be able to work remotely, we can benefit from a deeper connection with nature, and healthy boundaries appear more essential than they had been in the past. 2020 has been the year where we focused on a disease. We focused on death, restrictions, and cures. We also worked on getting things back to normal as we kept waiting for our old life to make its come back. Things did change, but did we take the time to focus on us and how we adapted to those changes? Did 2020 challenge us positively? Here are 3 ideas that can transform the way we think and connect with others. 

1. Gratitude matters a great deal. 

The concept of feeling grateful seems to have gained some momentum over the last few years. Yet, gratitude is not a trend nor an abstract philosophical idea. Being grateful encourages us to observe life through a different lens. When we decide that what we have is enough to become our best self, we no longer look for more things to want, but rather for ways to be at peace with who we are. Life appears worthwhile as every obstacle is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. Gratitude turns our focus from the external world to our very own potential. 

Gratitude is an activity in which all family members can engage. It might not come naturally at first, but as we learn to appreciate everything that surrounds us, we will definitely engage in it more instinctively. Many studies have shown that gratitude changes the way our brain processes information. The more grateful we are, the more we realize that our gratitude list could be endless. The more sufficient we feel, the more we want to give back to our community. Although I cannot list all the things for which I am personally grateful, I wanted to take the next few lines to share things that made life easier last year despite the countless difficulties. 

  • The internet. Without it, it would have been impossible to work remotely, see family members, host virtual parties or simply engage in activities that were nonexistent in person (online classes, movie watching, museum tours, etc.).
  • The writers, researchers, scientists, professors, and other academic intellectuals who wrote, explored, tested, and shared their knowledge on everything that happened in 2020 from healthcare to politics. They helped me understand the events that were taking place and shaped the next course of action. 
  • The people around me (friends and family members) who helped me keep my interactions alive. When the lockdowns hit all of us, those were the people who managed to make my life enjoyable, from near or far. 

2. Reorganizing our priorities can lead to a happier life.

Many people were forced to reorganize their year because of layoffs, plan cancellations, travel restrictions, significant health issues, etc. When our goals cannot be achieved due to external factors, we are compelled to rethink our projects and sometimes reevaluate our priorities. When most of our life aspects have turned into a routine, it is generally more difficult to change those old habits. It takes a dash of motivation combined with some serious discipline to create a meaningful difference.     

Last year, external changes happened without our need to think about it. We needed to alter our habits for health purposes. This new routine was imposed on us. But at some point, it’s important to take the time and reflect on the way our life has changed and genuinely think about our priorities. What really matters the most? Are there things that we were prioritizing in the past which appeared to be less important in the course of the year? Are there things that we didn’t have or paid attention to that mattered much more than we thought? Those are the questions that we need to ask ourselves to redesign our path to a more meaningful life. 

Ultimately, the definition of a happier life is subjective. We decide what happy means. We decide what matters and what doesn’t matter to us. Last year forced us to reconsider our routine. Perhaps, it has also sent us a message to reconsider our priorities and redefine happiness.  

3. Healthy connections with other beings are essential to survive.

Humans are interconnected. They can’t survive alone, as they thrive around other beings. Some might feel the need to connect with animals while others might search for human contact. 2020 has truly addressed the issue of being isolated and the desire to interact with someone in order to feel alive. 

Therefore, because connections are so important, they not only need to exist but to also be healthy. They need to help us become kinder and more empathetic. They need to provide as much support and love when we feel sad as excitement and passion when we want to share good news. Connections with others are part of our mental health. They are also part of our success. They provide a good description of the way we see ourselves and the world that surrounds us.

Last year inherently reminded us of the essential people in our life. In parallel, it has also brought light on new ones whether they were online connections, distant family members or older friends. Our attitude towards those individuals, our ability to reach out and be kind in chaotic times is fundamentally the direction we want to take when considering change. In 2020, did we connect with the people who mattered most to us? Did we feel lonely and unable to make contact with anyone? Why? By answering those questions, we will be able to better understand the kind of relationships we have and the extent to which we would like to change them in the future. 

Change starts when we take a break from our routine and look around. Growth takes place when we understand our responsibility behind every choice we make and every behavior we adopt. So, as we welcome 2021, let’s all take a deep breath and accept our past experiences. Let’s consider ways to improve our life not by changing what’s on the outside (our weight, our house or car) but by deeply transforming our path to happiness by addressing chronic dissatisfaction, wrong priorities and isolation. 

I wish you all a meaningful 2021, may it take you where you need to go.

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