This year has been a memorable one in arguably too many ways. As a political science student, it has definitely been uncomfortably uneasy to be such an active part of writing history, unable to flip a few pages and read how it will all play out. We crave certainty, answers — something concrete to reassure us that the chaos will come to an end. However, as the summer continues, I’ve done a lot of personal reflection. Is 2020 really just continuously sucking, or is some part of this a result of my own perspective? Naturally, as one does, I took to the internet. It turns out there is a great deal of research indicating that there are both positives and negatives to the “2020 strikes again” rhetoric. As a society, we need to start acknowledging both positions in order to preserve our own mental health and awareness as the year comes to a close.
Whether it be the pandemic, the (justifyingly) divisive political atmosphere, the looming election, a hurricane on the East Coast or the raging wildfires on the West Coast, it is undeniable that there has been what has seemed to be unending awfulness to the start of the new decade. On a personal note, my entire family contracted COVID-19 at the very beginning of the pandemic, likely due to my family members working in New York City. Thankfully, we all escaped the virus relatively unscathed and with the presence of antibodies; I tried to count my blessings and confront my own gratitude for none of my seven infected family members falling ill enough to be admitted to a hospital or be hooked on a ventilator. I will admit that this positive outlook seemed to not fit within the dialogue of 2020.
If it is all written out and placed chronologically, it really does seem like the bad news never ends. I even saw a TikTok recently that described the “best part of 2020” as the lack of societal shock to literally anything. The TikTok user claimed he could convince anyone that trees were coming alive and attacking people and nobody would be surprised. Thinking more deeply about this perspective and the motivation to expect the worst of what has already been a historically devastating year, it becomes nearly impossible to recognize when anything not-awful happens.
According to Dr. Susan Whitbourne, a Professor Emeritus of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Cognitive theory predicts that the negative beliefs you hold about yourself, or your self-schemas, cause you to view your experiences through a distorted set of perceptions.” The more negatively you anticipate something to turn out, the more likely you are to recognize the negative aspects in anything that happens. Of course, this is not to undermine or at all lessen the severity of so many horrible events that have transpired in the past eight months. Instead, it is perhaps an encouragement we societally could benefit from: take a deep breath and hope for better things ahead.
Conversely, there is also much to be said about the potential benefits of “2020 strikes again” rhetoric as a means to make light of a really emotionally challenging situation. Sometimes, making jokes or implementing sardonic humor can help lessen the weight of a troublesome circumstance. Dr. Gil Greengross, an evolutionary psychologist from Aberystwyth University, emphasizes, however, that it is also important to recognize possible negative consequences to an over-abundance of “negative styles of humor.”
Over the past few months, I’ve accepted my role as a statistic in an eternally historical dataset of positive test results. I’ve confronted my white privilege as a female in an affluent New Jersey suburb. I’ve fought for justice, weathered a power-outage inducing hurricane, a tornado one town over and struggled through personal dilemmas with relationships and mental health. This year has absolutely been the worst year I’ve experienced thus far in my two decades of life. Of course, my experience is comparatively minuscule to so many individuals and families I can’t help but pray for despite my lack of faith.
The year 2020 may go down as one of the worst in history, but it’s time to try and hope for better. I won’t stop laughing at the memes or partaking in the depressing, cynical humor on occasion. But I plan to make a conscious effort to watch the undulations of the world as it continues to ebb and flow through crisis and catastrophe; the human race has conquered so much in our past, let us now have faith in what we hope to be a positive future.
Jess D’Agostino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.