“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” – Hal Borland
It’s the time of year for reflections and projections as we take stock of all that has happened over the last twelve months and peer with hopeful curiosity into the future. There is no question that 2021 was another unpredictable year and we are still living in uncertain times. At The Optimist Daily we like to look at things through a scientific lens, a statistical lens, and with a determined optimism that highlights what was good, what was powerful, and what we can harness for a better future. We prefer to ask, “What are the possibilities present in this moment?”
The ability to “go back to normal” pre-pandemic simply is no longer the goal. As a world, we have moved forward in meaningful ways. We have created new solutions, and we have learned how powerful flexibility, community, creativity, and intimacy with our natural world can be. This was knowledge that we had not focused on before the pandemic changed our lives. We cannot pretend that this has not been a deeply challenging experience. We also cannot pretend that nothing good that has come from our evolution. There’s much to be excited about.
And so, as we say adieu to this turbulent year, we are highlighting eight positive trends that we see sticking around!
1. Remote and hybrid work
The pandemic allowed us to slow down and reevaluate our work-life balance with new work patterns that are here to stay. Some people are now permanently working from home, and some returned to the office, even if for just a few days a week, under a hybrid model. We have welcomed many back to the workforce in ways that felt impossible at the start of the year including primary parents (especially mothers), differently abled team members, and by opening our companies and collaborative teams to a dynamic, global world workforce, we have increased input improving productivity and profitability for many industries. Allowing this flexibility is a great new feature of work today, and we think it’s here to stay!
2. A greater appreciation for workers
We also saw an even greater, and much-deserved appreciation for our frontline workers. For instance, France thanked over 12,000 frontline workers with fast-tracked citizenship processes for their sacrifices and efforts. We have also elevated the understanding of what it means to be a frontline worker. We have developed an increased respect for service industry workers and those people employed to keep our health care, infrastructure, and education systems running. While the “great resignation” has been a hard challenge for both consumers and company management, it has been a leading indicator on a change in the way we value work and those who do some of our world’s most important jobs. We see this as a long overdue rebalancing in the relationship between workers and the fruits of their work, and think it will continue in 2022 and beyond.
3. More careers aimed towards healing our planet
Speaking of work, we saw another year of reevaluating our jobs and our contributions to the planet. We found out that for Generation Z, climate careers are the path to success, and even in a pandemic, many Gen Z’ers participated in at least one major environmental action in the last year. Good news for these young adults and teens looking to develop a career that promotes a sustainable earth: there are many new job opportunities emerging for a zero-emissions world. And this will only continue into the future!
4. Recentering of mental health
Even on the world’s biggest stage, mental health became a number one priority this year, and helped recenter the conversation around the globe around what makes a person thrive. We celebrated the bravery of G.O.A.T. gymnast Simone Biles in her choice not to compete in several rounds at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and from tennis star Naomi Osaka’s public confrontation of mental health challenges. They both helped to change the dialogue around mental health even in the high pressure arena of global sports. The US Open, for example, took note from Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open and will now offer mental health services to participating athletes. Collectively, we’ve all taken a moment to asses our mental health, reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on every generation. Open discussions about mental health as key for overall health and building access to tools that support mental wellness make for a better world.
5. Learning how to live our best, longest lives
With the loss and altering of life over the past almost two years, many of us have looked at ways to improve our overall health and extend our days. We can take simple notes from those living in Blue Zones to improve our longevity, from the food habits we engage in and even the ways we consume alcohol. Moving away from simplistic models of health, like a “diet culture” that emphasizes thinness above all else, towards a more robust understanding of functional health is a great trend that we think is here to stay. Maybe more of us can even achieve new heights such as this 105-year-old setting the world-record for the 100 meter dash earlier this year!
Speaking of health, many people over the course of the pandemic wisely decided to bring more houseplants into their lives. This bit of green lifted moods and gave us plant parents new purpose as we spent more time in our homes working or learning remotely and social distancing. The benefits of indoor houseplants are well documented, like filtering the air and improving the ability to work better. Plants have become as important to some people as pets: there’s now a Masterclass on how to move with plants, and there are even plant hotels these days to take care of your beloved leafy friends while you are away. We love this trend, and see no signs of it fading!
7. New appreciation for technological innovation
We’ve written at length about the potential for an international crisis to spur innovation. For example, the pandemic has accelerated advances in medical technology advancing treatment, diagnosis and logistics for health care. For example, this year we wrote about new approaches to treating malaria, new vaccine technology addressing HIV (among other ailments), and advances in diagnosing cancer. Technology is also became central to expanding access to health care in general.
Meanwhile, this year has also seen a huge shift in how seriously the mainstream media reports on the climate crisis, and we’ve seen an accelerated interest in new approaches in this arena as well. From farmers using AI in targeted watering to improve food systems to an indigenous conservation corps saving their rainforest using smartphones and satellites; from climate forward companies using direct air carbon capture to doctors using AI to better serve hospital patients, and everything in between, technological advancements are here to stay.
8. New appreciation for nature (and the simpler life)
On the flip side of celebrating new technologies is a reawakened appreciation of the power of nature and its importance in what makes our lives meaningful. From looking to nature for inspiration on how to solve complex problems, to a deepening of the knowledge that we do better when we are around green things, and that we do better when we promote biodiversity, Mother Nature is getting cool again. As modern society gets humbled to the wisdom of indigenous cultures around the world, new policies are being put in place that rebalance our place in the natural world. We love this trend. As Kristy is fond of saying on the Optimist Daily Update podcast, “Animals are ‘people’ too!” It’s about time we remembered that we are also a part of nature.
If there is anything that we hope to keep from this last year (or two), its the reminder of how important it is to slow down and breathe. After all, simply listening to nature is good for your health.
Welcome to the new year!
Kristy Jansen, Summers McKay and Karissa Garcia all contributed to this article