It’s official. We’ve closed the book on 2020. And while it may have been the strangest, most universally stressful year many of us have ever experienced, it’s also true that each of us can likely look back and recognize that it wasn’t all bad. In fact, a lot of good things emerged from what many of us have coined the “worst year ever.”
This perspective is important to recognize. After all, it’s easier to focus on the negative. Research shows that people tend to recognize and dwell on the negative aspects of our lives more easily and recall them with more detail. As clinical psychologist Noga Zerubavel tells us, “We’ve evolved in a way so that our brains notice problems more effectively than they notice lovely things. So, we need to be deliberate about focusing in on and savoring these positive elements.”
Taking the time to focus on the positive aspects of our lives, however, is good for establishing an optimistic outlook that we can use to tackle the year to come.
Create a Redemptive Narrative
In psychological terms, a “redemptive narrative” is when we take a look at a period of our lives and make an effort to find the silver lining in what we’ve experienced. We can look at the difficulties we faced during, but recognize that, in many cases, they can also be interpreted in a more positive way so that we can truly value what we’ve been through.
As Villanova University researchers Erica Slotter and Deborah Ward explain, “the creation of a redemptive narrative involves actively increasing and enhancing one’s positive emotional experiences derived from an event by engaging in attempts to derive meaning from the event itself.”
There is no denying that the pandemic was a terrible event. However, when we reflect on this period of our lives, we’ll also remember the little wins and moments we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
Find the Silver Linings
When I think about the stories of joy that living through 2020 unexpectedly created, my coworker pops into my mind. His baby boy was born not quite 6 months before the pandemic arose. When the world shut down last March, daycare closed too. My coworker and his wife were not alone in their discovery that working full time and caring full time for a baby is a borderline impossible juggling act. But children change so much during those early days. Instead of focusing on the negatives, he thinks back fondly of spending time with his little boy this past year, watching him grow. As he reflected to me, “Without the lockdowns, I wouldn’t have been able to witness some major milestones, like his first steps. Sure, it was hard, but things like that made it all worth it.”
Its moments like these, the silver linings, that can redeem this past year’s narrative.
I think about my own children similarly. They are both elementary school aged, so I really did grieve all that they were missing out on educationally, emotionally and socially while we stayed home. However, the bond that my kids established with one another while we stayed a small foursome is something that I will always be thankful for. Their private jokes, neighborhood explorations, and almost nightly movie-night sleepovers together are all something that would have likely never occurred if they were able to participate in pre-pandemic life with lives chock full of responsibilities, activities and friends. Living through the pandemic gave them the opportunity to develop their sibling relationship into a close friendship that I am grateful for every day.
The silver linings the pandemic provided us don’t need to only relate to our personal relationships. For many of us, it provided bonus time that we would not have otherwise had the ability to embrace.
Another coworker reflected on the extra time she was getting to spend with her dog. When our offices closed down and we pivoted to working from home, she was able to spend her days working with her dog by her side, which could never happen during a normal day at the office. She says, “He’s an elderly dog now, so I know this time is precious.”
Write Your Own Silver Lining
If you’re having a difficult time finding the positive in this incredibly challenging season of our lives, you could try journaling to help yourself focus on the good that this strange time has brought our way.
Writing our thoughts out and taking account of our days are great ways to channel your thoughts more positively. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center suggests this process to help reframe your narrative:
- List the things that you feel are worthwhile about your life, no matter how simple they may seem.
Remembering and literally writing out what brings you joy and fulfillment will help you establish a positive state of mind. You may also surprise yourself with a few discoveries!
- Then, reflect on a situation that didn’t go your way and write about it.
You don’t have to write much, just a few sentences about what upset you will suffice. The important thing is that in retelling the situation, you’ll be able to feel the emotions that it stirs for you – or help you achieve distance from the actual event by thinking of it as a story.
- List things that can help you put the experience in perspective.
Whether it’s finding the bright side of the situation or determining the impact that the experience will have on your life down the road. When you challenge yourself to see a situation differently and focus on appreciating the situation for the unexpected good things it provides, your perspective will change for the better.
What silver linings has the pandemic created for you? Do you have any tips for reframing your narrative into one of redemption? Visit our Community Facebook page and share!