The year of 2020 has taught us that the world we know can suddenly become unpredictable and foreign (Proudfoot, 2020, November 17). Many of us waited in anticipation for the arrival of 2021 only to discover shortly that the world did not return to “normal,” as we had hoped.
The year of 2020 and its stillness offered a quiet time for reflections and a renewed focus on the most important undertakings and people in my life. On the other hand, 2021 offered glimpses of hope and a realistic view of how the “new normal” may look like.
As the year draws to an end, I look back on the journey with gratitude, with a nod to Dr. Emmon’s work on gratitude, which helps us appreciate and affirm the goodness in our lives (Emmons, 2018). In light of the current global pandemic, my first thankful thought was obviously health and well-being. I am grateful that I am still in good health: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There were moments when good spirits, energy and motivation waxed and waned, but, overall, I am thankful that I was able to take care of the people and things that were most important to me.
My work as a psychotherapist in the past year has allowed me to witness the growth and resilience in my clients as we journeyed through the uncertainties, frustrations, challenges and disappointments amid the pandemic. There was an added layer of closeness as we shared the everyday adaptations as fellow individuals, parents, children of elderly parents, and community members. I was honored and humbled to offer support and companionship to those who were in isolation and grieving, as well as to offer encouragement and humor to others who were hoping for a better tomorrow.
To stay the course of my own quest for meaning and purpose in a time of uncertainties and unpredictability, I found it necessary to adhere to the personal goals I set out to achieve—goals that require varying degrees of commitment and of different levels of significance: small goals that range from learning a new recipe, taking care of a new plant, mastering a new game/skill, keeping up with an exercise regime and doing house chores to bigger goals of career and academic advancement, personal missions, and checking off items on the bucket list . How far I progressed on these goals was inevitably affected by influences beyond my control—so disappointments, patience, acceptance of setbacks, self-forgiveness and adaptation were part of the process. In this time of constant change, I’ve discovered that determination and perseverance are the key factors that determine whether we achieve the bigger and longer term goals.
This year, I was also thankful for the opportunities to conduct two research studies on the impact of COVID-19 related suffering experiences on public mental health (Leung et al., 2021; Arslan et al., 2021). It was a privilege and a wonderful learning experience to collaborate with other researchers. According to our findings, personal meaning and tragic optimism can buffer the negative impacts of COVID-19 related suffering on individuals’ mental health and well-being.
Finally, I am grateful for helping August’s virtual Meaning Conference be a success. Despite tech teams operating 5,000 km apart, and an internet service outage at my end, the virtual conference allowed meaning-minded scholars and practitioners to exchange research and clinical interventions aimed at positively affecting the public’s mental health in these difficult times.
Although it is unclear what 2022 will bring, one reassuring fact is that we are more prepared for the unprecedented situations than ever before. My sincere wish for everyone is that we will all come out stronger from this pandemic. May peace, hope and love be upon us as we continue to journey on together.
Arslan, G., Yildirim, M., & Leung, M. M. (2021). Mediating Effect of Personal Meaning in the Prediction of Life Satisfaction and Mental Health Problems Based on Coronavirus Suffering. Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.638379
Emmons, R. A. (2018). Positive Psychology. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF Publishers. https://nobaproject.com/modules/positive-psychology
Leung, M. M., Arslan, G. & Wong, P. T. P. (2021). Tragic Optimism as a Buffer against COVID-19 Suffering and the Psychometric Properties of a Brief Version of the Life Attitudes Scale (LAS-B). Frontiers in Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.646843
Proudfoot, S. (2020, November 17). 2020 was the year that changed everything. Maclean’s. https://www.macleans.ca/society/2020-was-the-year-that-changed-everything/