As I take a view on my 2021 mirror in retrospect, I ask myself -- did I expect a better 2021? Was my expectation that all Covid-induced problems or global warming or all the 2020-brought troubles would conveniently disappear? Apart from setting a ridiculous reading goal, did I not set a mental alarm that 2021 might bring even more heart-breaks than 2020? Or, was I so oblivious to the fact that virus mutates? With a snug-fit mask-on, sitting at a pseudo-crowded café, worried about my still-unvaccinated three-year-old, I look at the cautious crowd and read the headlines of the global dailies on my laptop screen and speculates 2022.
From a Washington DC dweller perspective, undoubtedly the significant change came on January 20, 2021. We all sighed that we might not have to check on twitter from now on every five minutes to guess if there is any world-shattering news. Perhaps, I was being a little bit smug one year ago this time, hoping to bid Covid-19 a good farewell. Nature smiled and all the Greek letters, alpha, beta, gamma, delta up to omicron, with their variants, joined the chorus.
I personally lost my an aunt and an uncle in 2021. I saw my parents struggling while coping with grief, going through pain as they could not meet their grandson, as they could not ask me to visit them from the other side of the Atlantic, as they were socially even more isolated, and, most horrifyingly, I watched them being paranoid for health safety. They now put mask on while on a car, outdoor uncrowded parks, in fact any places where they fear Covid-19 can spread, even if the fear is unfounded. I do not blame them.
I lost touch with some friends, but gained even more in social-distanced ways. I think in 2021, we all figured out thousands of ways to stay-in-touch and to have-fun-strategies remotely, such as, Zoom meets, virtual baby showers, virtual farewell and welcome parties and what not. 2021 made us maestros of remote-social-distanced entertainment.
Coping with loss and grief is another hard thing I had to learn in 2021. With a mask on, I learned to run, window shop, and smile at strangers. I realised people actually do understand now when one smiles with a mask on. If you are dealing with grief, loss of a relative or friend, loss of employment, grief from being socially isolated, loss from anything -- try smiling mask-on. I personally believe it works. Thousands of studies show smiling helps brain release dopamine, serotonin, and endorphin, the happy hormone anti-depressant league. Now, since masks are here to stay, why not be cheerful with mask-on, while we cope with grief?
I think of coping with grief these days as a luxury good being sold in the market. While we as a customer are strictly price-takers and have absolutely no perfect information on what coming next from the seller's side, as an economist I think the best strategy for the customers of coping is to expect the next phase to be harder, stricter, with more restriction. I think the buyer should play here with the hardest strategy, which is to deal with grief smile-on, remembering the cliché, happiness is after all a choice.
My most favourite article in 2021 came out in New York Times on languishing. Psychologist Adam Grant assured me my constant feeling blah and lack of energy is valid and just like me millions of people globally are suffering from the same. Not a chronic depression, not a particular reason, just plain simple lethargy, lack of energy, a simple feeling of emptiness. And yes, that too is valid. 2021 taught us even more on our mental health concerns and how profoundly it is vital for us to care for our mental health just like physical health. I happily pass my therapist's number to another friend now. Before 2021, I was never so keen.
Besides the common dream of universal-vaccination, my hopes for 2022 are that we will be patient. My hopes are that we will admit being open means expecting freedom of speech not only from myself but from others as well, in other words, not only to speak but also to listen. My 2022 hope is that we will realise deaths are unpreventable but being resilient is not. As Yuval Noah Harari wrote in Sapiens, "A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is", I here raise my coffee cup to a wishful 2022 where we'll be a little bit more empathetic, be a little less stressed about children's' grades, but simultaneously be not daunted to raise our voice when we need to, be it for a black-lives-matter or me-too or climate change movement.
Naima Farah PhD, an Energy Economist, specialises in Energy, Environment, and Applied Microeconomics. [email protected]