It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. I’ve been trying to spend less time online (Nuggets Twitter commentary aside) over the holidays and during my annual period of reflection. I think this is a good practice any time you’re trying to do big picture thinking or other types of deep work, but it seemed especially important this year.
Usually the time around New Year’s is filled with hope and excitement. People may not have been perfectly satisfied with how the prior year went, but they’re optimistic that the next year will be better! It can even be helpful to me to (briefly) go online and feed off others’ excitement before returning to my own reflection and planning.
This year wasn’t like that at all, though. There wasn’t much space for optimism between all the “Fuck 2016” videos and hashtags. I get it. Humans like to complain and 2016 was a relatively tough year for a lot of people. But the key word is “relatively.” By any reasonable metric, for those of us living in developed countries last year was unimaginably better than any year in the Middle Ages. Or, for that matter, any year in the 1800s. We may quibble over some details, but in general it’d be tough to argue that 2016 was worse than the years when my grandparents were starting their lives.
And yet we complain. Maybe it’s because misery loves company. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to make jokes that get likes when you’re whining than when you’re expressing gratitude. Maybe it’s narcissism. Maybe it’s a byproduct of our evolutionary biology. Whatever the reason, it’s deeply troubling to me. I spent a lot of time during this annual reflection trying to plan for a future in which I could maximize the positive impact I have on the world. But how do we define “positive” when people complain more vehemently when their WiFi can’t keep up with their Netflix streaming than their great grandmothers did when fighting for basic voting rights? How do we generate real improvement when each advancement is treated as a new source of potential complaints?
Our lives our getting better objectively, but how much does that matter if our subjective perceptions don’t keep up?
I’m a long way from answering any of those questions, but it seems to me that we’ll need to work for progress on both the objective (e.g., access to clean water, faster internet, etc.) and subjective (e.g., appreciation, compassion, etc.) fronts in order to create lives that are truly “better.” In light of this, I’m working on cultivating gratitude for all the good things that happened in 2016. I’m currently sipping on delicious coffee at a coffee shop I discovered in 2016 while listening to a playlist of my favorite tracks released last year (coming soon!) and writing a post for a photo of the Cubs winning the World Series! Life is good. 🙂