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From COVID-19 to Kim Jong Un, from Black Lives Matter to Biden winning the election, from Australian bushfires to Zoom fatigue, 2020 was a year that affected everyone. It left some happy to stay at home for weeks on end, and it left others traumatized from the loss of family members and the intense fight against systemic racism. Many people were wise to point out that just because of the new year, the problems of 2020 are not going to disappear. But that should not mean that we cannot be optimistic about 2021. In reality, we can still be optimistic without being naive; in fact, we would be smart to be optimistic about the battles that 2020 started, as they can change our world for the better if we continue to learn from them.

Though it is understandable to not have too much hope for 2021 (especially given that the U.S. Capitol building was raided before the first full week was out), there is a great deal of hope that can come with this new year. We can keep raising awareness of systemic racism by continuing to support the Black Lives Matter movement and pushing back against police brutality. We can take the fierce Australian bushfires to raise awareness of global warming. We can take the California gender reveal fire to get rid of the horrible trend of gender reveal parties. Even on the smallest level, we can take the nonstop tragedies of last year in order to help promote a better future this year.

Of course, optimism does not only have to entail pushing for big changes for the future. If 2020 threw you in for a loop, it’s okay to work your way back into finding good reasons to enjoy your life even during lockdowns and political turmoil. It can be something as simple as setting up your room in a different way, taking the time to go on walks or trying a new recipe. Despite 2020’s struggles that are bleeding into 2021, we can still find things to look forward to. You could plan a vacation for when the pandemic is over; even if you don’t ever go on that vacation, studies have found that just planning a trip can be good for your mental health. You can meet up with friends for Zoom games and chats or plan something you can all do together when the pandemic has ended. Though it seems odd to place so much focus on the end when there doesn’t seem to be one in sight, it can be nice to take stress off of the brain by focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel rather than inundate ourselves daily with constant tragedy. 

And of course, there is nothing wrong with self-care. Social media detoxing and taking time to do things that bring you peace can help foster hope and joy. Returning to a daily routine can also help mental health and may instill your life with more optimism. Even within the safety guidelines and problems going on in the world, it is okay to take a few days to yourself to recharge your batteries. Living in times as mercurial as these can take a serious toll on mental health, especially for people of color, and it would bode well for hope for a better year if positive mental health was a main focus.

When you’re not concentrating on taking care of yourself, learn. 2020 put to the forefront the many things that are wrong in our societies, and now with these issues in everyone’s minds, we can educate ourselves better. Read books written by POC and continue to support small businesses. Educate yourself on the atrocities mainstream media is choosing to ignore, and help do something about them, even if it’s spreading awareness through social media. Learning helps the brain stay healthy and active, so even if you’re diving into some subjects that are heavy, your brain will appreciate learning something new about communities that are in need of support.

It is okay to not be optimistic about 2021. It is also okay to try to find some hope in 2021 by bettering yourself, your home or the world around you. No matter what state 2020 left you in, there is still plenty of life that can be enjoyed and changed. We can venture forth from the wreckage of the last year hopeful but wise, and no matter how good or how bad 2021 ends up being, we can have confidence in taking control over what we can change.

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