Year’s end is a wonderful time to reflect upon what has been, where we are, and where we are going. Anybody who could have predicted this year that unfolded would have been called crazy, as little as twelve months ago. Who could imagine the pandemic with its concomitant lockdowns, quarantines, loss, change of lifestyle, and on and on.
Much has been made about counting our blessings as we close out the year. There is what to count, and much to be grateful for. Psychologists know that expressing gratitude, particularly writing gratitude lists, can be very beneficial for people’s state of mind and soul. There is nothing wrong with gratefulness, yet that seems to cut the real possibility of reflection short.
In our recently published book, “ISRESILIENCE: What Israelis Can Teach the World,” my co-author Michael Dickson and myself, uncover the keys that have been so prominent in the lives of amazing Israelis we interviewed, people who experienced significant challenges in their lives and went on to thrive. Reflecting on these three keys of resilience can guide us in our reflections about this past year. While this list is not exhaustive, these three keys are, to our minds are essential, and enable us to learn what we can take into our own lives in order to build our own resilience.
Key one: Empathy.
Empathy refers to the ability to be conversant in emotions, to identify one’s own feelings and those of others, and to be open to a wide range of emotions. Resilience requires people to allow themselves to feel a wide range of emotions, from sadness, loss, and pain to joy, happiness, and optimism. If people are afraid of pain or sadness, they tend to avoid it, shut it down, or become numb. This then interferes with their ability to feel other feelings as well. 2020 has been quite a year for emotions. Sadness and grief for a way of life we have lost, for having our assumptions about our world torn asunder, and yes, for the people we have lost to Coronavirus, take first place. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, frustration, and anger are quick to follow, as we remember Passover Seder alone, solitary Shabbat meals, long days and longer nights alone. There was also relaxation, love, joy, gratefulness, and excitement in varying amounts. And now, just feel the excitement in the air with the advent of the vaccine, and the hope that life really will return to normal. We have experienced it all. Allowing ourselves to experience all of the emotions of 2020 is key to our continued resilience in 2021.
Key two: Flexibility
Flexibility refers to the ability to approach life in a dynamic way. Sometimes we expect one thing and get another. Often, the road we have chosen appears blocked. What do we do when that happens? 2020 could be subtitled, the Year of Flexibility. How many of us knew about ZOOM a year ago? How have we refashioned our lives, our ways of communicating, working, entertaining, and visiting? Learning how to pivot mid-course, re-tool, re-design, re-plan, again and again and again, probably symbolizes this year better than anything else.
Key three: Meaning making
Psychologists have been saying for years that people who have meaning in their lives live longer. Highlighting the meaning we find and create in our lives, will underscore and strengthen our resilience. Bringing the discussion of meaning to the table is imperative both in our understanding of the nature of resilience, and in increasing our resilience in the shadow of Covid-19. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did so many people die? Why did this pandemic descend upon the world? There are no answers to these existential questions, but encouraging discussion about the “whys” and the “wherefores” is essential in the building of resilience. So where have you found meaning in your life this year? And where do you foster hope in your heart for a better future? For many of us, our lives were turned upside down. Our usual ways of doing things came to an abrupt halt, not by choice. What have we done with that? Continuing our search to find and make meaning in our lives can be the signpost of where we are as we step into the new year.
Looking back on 2020, we can say that this was a year that challenged our resilience. As a community, as a country, as a world, we have stood up to the challenge. It has been a resilient year. We have learned new ways of being in the world, some that will probably remain with us for a long time, and others will disappear as quickly as they arrived. As we move into the new year let us renew our commitment to increasing the empathy, flexibility and meaning making in our lives, the keys to a more resilient 2021.