After a year of restricted social contact, lockdowns, retrenchments, and the cloud of a pandemic constantly looming over our heads, many of us are walking into 2021 with guns blazing for a bigger, brighter, and better year.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 2020, it’s that life has a tendency to throw curveballs when you least expect it.
After all, it’s barely been a week into 2021 and we’ve already seen many countries around the world re-implemented lockdowns after spikes in COVID-19 cases, social unrest in the United States, and a big hoo-ha here in Singapore over TraceTogether data and privacy concerns.
The year is not off to a good start, and if we choose to focus on that, it might very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
After all, many have cited 2020 as one of the worst years in recent times, myself included. As part of the graduating class of 2020, I spent the past year bemoaning how my final academic semester and graduation plans got grandly derailed. From being unable to complete my Final Year Project (FYP) experiments, to having my graduation trip and convocation postponed or cancelled, it was simply a bad year to graduate.
Yet, as I did my annual year-end reflections, I realised that while I constantly referred to 2020 as a dreadful year, it might not have been so at all. I still managed to secure a full-time job doing something that I love after graduating, and while I wasn’t able to complete my FYP experiments, the Circuit Breaker also brought with it extended deadlines that gave me more time to work on my final report.
It is with these realisations in mind that I am tailoring my approach towards 2021; the year may not necessarily be a good one, but it’s up to me to make it so. Instead of being disappointed about not getting my ideal graduation to mark the end of my 16 years of formal education, I thought it time to put my education to good use and apply some of the psychological concepts I had learned about in school to my own life instead.
Practicing Positive Psychology
Positive psychology is a relatively new field in psychology, developed to improve the well-being and optimal functioning in people. It aims to “encourage people to identify and further develop their own positive emotions, experiences, and character traits” (Source: Harvard Health Publishing).
Over the years, a number of different counselling and coaching techniques have been developed based on the fundamentals of positive psychology. I thus took it upon myself to learn more about these practices so as to implement them in my own life and become a more positive individual in 2021.
While well-being therapy is typically used to promote recovery from affective disorders like depression, I found some that its central tenets can easily be applied to my own life.
In essence, well-being therapy focuses on having individuals promote the positives in their life while alleviating the negatives. Techniques used in well-being therapy include keeping track of and recognising positive events that occur each day, as well as self-argumentation.
Coincidentally, one of our writers recently embarked on a one week journey to practice just that — using self-argumentation to practice optimism in her own life; she identified the voice in her head making negative remarks, and argued against it with more positive refrains. Over time, the intention is that individuals who practice this will be able to change negative ways of thinking.
Sounds like a gimmick? Our writer can’t say for sure, although she is hopeful that it works. Regardless, there are other techniques promoted within positive psychology that has undergone rigorous testing and found to be effective.
Positive psychotherapy was developed by Dr Seligman and his colleagues to help build positive emotions, character strengths, and a sense of meaning. It uses a combination of 12 exercises that can be practiced individually or in groups, some of which are mentioned below:
- Using your signature strengths: identify your top five strengths through a short questionnaire available here, and use them in a new way daily.
- Three good things: every day, write down three good things that has happened that day and think about why they happened.
- Gratitude visit: write a letter to someone explaining why you are grateful for them and read it out to the recipient.
While these methods might not seem like much, a study done of over 400 participants with clinical depression has actually found that using techniques like ‘using your signature strength’ and ‘three good things’ have actually resulted in participants being significantly happier.
While positive psychology is a fairly young field and clinical testing of a large scale is still scant at the moment, there’s no harm in giving some of these techniques a try! At the end of the day, there are no downsides to practicing any of these techniques, and you only stand to gain from becoming a more positive person.
Making the Most of 2021
The first two weeks of 2021 are off to a rainy, dreary beginning, but much like 2020, it’s up to us to make the most out of it.
While the world around us might have looked like a complete mess in 2020, there was still plenty of goodness if we just knew where to look; young entrepreneurs rose up to give back to the community, awareness increased for the importance of mental health, wildlife found a way to thrive, and so much more.
And this is why I intend to take things into my own hands in 2021; instead of waiting for the world to get better, I’ll instead choose to be better, starting by putting my four years of university education to good use and implementing some of these positive psychology techniques into my daily life!
Beyond this, I also intend to make the most out of this year. I spent most of 2020 waiting for restrictions to ease (thank the heavens for Phase 3) and hoping for travel restrictions to relax. This year, I know better than to hope for it. Rather, I’ll be spending my time reconnecting with some of the things I love to do, upskilling myself, and connecting with my friends and family.
Ultimately, 2021 will be what we make of it. While it might be tempting to bank our hopes for the year ahead on the pandemic situation improving, reality might still disappoint. Instead of waiting for things to happen, it’s up to us to make it happen and make the most of what we have.