Life can be tough: there’s no way to deny that.
It’s tough in a multitude of different ways, depending on geographic location, the size (or scarcity) of your wealth, the strongly held beliefs you hold, the social structures you find yourself part of, or the race, religion, gender or sexual orientation you find yourself born into.
But 2016 has been a tougher year than most, for many people.
We’ve endured financial hardship, the threat of terrorism, the rise of the political right and the seemingly endless procession of celebrity and iconic deaths, from Bowie to Fisher and every other unfortunate soul in between.
The good news is that 2016 is very nearly over. ‘Hurray, and good riddance!’ cry the masses, as we lift our glasses and prepare to ring the new year in, ‘2016, you’ve been a remorseless bastard. I hope we never see your like again’.
As Sartre would no doubt point out, we’re the architects of our own lives. And with that existentialist viewpoint comes responsibility – life only gets better if we make it so. So how are we going to make 2017 different? How are we going to pick ourselves up off the floor, dust ourselves off and face tomorrow with a steely glint of determination in our eyes?
The answer will be different for every single one of us, but here are a few ideas to consider if you’re resolute that 2017 is going to be better and brighter.
Why was 2016 so unutterably hard?
The preceding 12 months have been relentless. It began in early January with the untimely death of the cultural icon that was David Bowie. Yeah he was ‘just a rock star’, but he was also a totemic figure in the late 20th century world. He represented something above and beyond his music – his style, his androgyny, his polymathic talent MEANT something to people of a certain generation. So when he passed, a rent was made in the hearts of many…
Little did we know that this was just the start. 2016 has been a year of change, upheaval, heartache and shocking deaths:
- We’ve seen a change in the socio-economic outlook of much of the Western world, with a future that once seemed stable and comfortable now left unsure and troubled.
- Many of us are experiencing unemployment, redundancy or instability in the future of our employment – and uncertainty in our short and long-term financial stability.
- Politics and public opinion has moved insidiously to the right, with an isolationist, ‘not in my backyard’ mentality becoming ever more prevalent.
- We’ve seen hideous and barbarous acts carried out in the names of war, fundamentalist religious beliefs and the causes of terrorism.
- There’s been a mass exodus of displaced peoples from across the Middle East and Europe in a manner not seen since the dark days of World War 2 – and thousands of unnecessary and blameless deaths along the way.
- And that list of dead cultural icons has continued to grow… and grow… and grow. Lemmy, Prince, Victoria Wood, George Michael, Ronnie Corbett, Carrie Fisher, Wogan… the roll call is a chilling who’s-who list of many of the most talented people of their generation. Gone.
That’s a lot of negativity to process. A lot of ‘bad stuff’ to get your head around. A lot of emotion to cope with when we all still have to keep going with our day-to-day lives with some scintilla of positivity to keep us going.
But we HAVE to keep going, no matter what. That, after all, is what humans have always done. Whether it’s surviving an ice age or overcoming the plague, what human beings are good at is dealing with adversity – we face the challenge, we forge onwards and we just GET ON WITH IT.
So, 2016, you’ve done your worst, but we’re gonna make damn sure 2017 is a better year! Here are five things you can do to make a difference.
1. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes
If you only do one thing differently in 2017, make it this – put yourself in the shoes of your fellow humans. Increase your empathy and decrease your selfishness.
Before you spout some trite bit of bile, or reference a stereotype you’ve always adhered to, think about the person you’re aiming this negativity towards. How are your words going to affect them? Are you going to hurt them? Do you have any basis at all for your prejudice? In most cases, the answer to that last question will be ‘Damn, no I don’t!’, so try for a second to imagine what it’s like being this person.
Walk a mile in their shoes, and see the world through their eyes, if only for a second. And you may just find that you understand them a tiny bit better.
2. Broaden your world view
Globalisation and worldwide online communication have made our little green and blue planet a much smaller place. But for many, there’s still a deep mistrust of anyone who ‘isn’t from around here’ or who looks, sounds or thinks differently… that has to change.
The world is a hugely diverse and fantastic place, with a vast number of different cultures, beliefs and social norms. So we should all be proud of where we come from, but not at the exclusion of the rest of those cultures. Putting up a metaphysical wall around your town/city/country and saying ‘only people like me can live here’ is as daft as it sounds.
The United Kingdom we know today exists in its current form in part because of the massive variety of immigrants who’ve arrived here over the centuries. Whether it’s the Vikings, the Normans, the Huguenots, the Jewish community or the Indian, Pakistani and West Indian peoples who settled here in the late 20th century, we’ve ALWAYS been a mix of races and cultures.
So, embrace that diversity, welcome it and break down that self-imposed wall.
3. Stop broadcasting, repeating and sharing hate
We live in a world where the internet is king and anyone with a smartphone can send, broadcast and share their viewpoints and perspectives on the world.
That ability to have an idea in London and for it to instantly be read in New York, Mumbai, Hong Kong or Cairo is a hugely powerful one – it’s never been easier for humans to communicate with the rest of humanity. But it’s also a privilege that can be misused.
Social media can be a force for good, but it’s also a place where narrow-minded people can share their dogma, hate and intolerance. If we want the future to be a kinder, more productive place, let’s stop sharing and retweeting the crap that gets posted.
Christmas was NEVER going to be cancelled, England is NOT just for the English and the vast majority of asylum seekers are not here to steal your welfare benefits.
4. Balance your online world with your offline life
The online world is inescapable in the early 21st century. Through our smartphones, tablets and laptops, we’ve got 24/7 access to the sum total of human achievement – every song, every movie, every book and every piece of scientific fact is out there as a series of zero and ones.
When you add in the addictive allure of social media, games, apps and online communication, it’s easy to see why we’re all walking around with our noses stuck to our phone screens, oblivious to other people. But, if we’re not careful, we’re going to miss out on the real world that’s happening around us.
So, put that phone down for a second. Walk away from the laptop. Turn off the modem (shock horror!). And without these distractions, focus on the people around you – talk to your family, your friends and the stranger in the coffee shop queue in front of you.
Sure, social media can be a brilliant way to widen your circle, meet new people and open your mind to other parts of the world. But, where you can, take this contact beyond the digital realm and into the living, breathing, real world.
5. Take responsibility for your future
This one’s the real ‘biggie’. If you want your life to be better – more fulfilling, more secure, more happy, more positive – then you’re going to have to be the architect of that change.
No-one owes you a bright, rosy future. You’re not entitled to a great life. The world does not owe you a favour. The driving force behind any of these changes is YOU.
- Want a better job? Get online, teach yourself some new skills and start applying for new roles – or even start working for yourself, if that’s a feasible option.
- Think you’ve got a creative or artistic talent to share? Capture that creativity and share it online, play gigs or perform in shows, work hard and pay your dues – be your own visionary and don’t feel that X-Factor is the only option.
- Still looking for ‘the one’? There’s 7.5 billion of us in the world, so your ideal partner is out there (in fact, there’s probably thousands). So don’t mope around: get out there meeting people (whether it’s online, in real life or a mixture of both) and get to know those other singletons.
- Disagree with the political agenda? We still live in a democracy, so your vote, your opinion and your actions do count. If you want to change the status quo, get out there, protest, band together with other like-minded people and make your views known.
- Feeling alone and confused? None of these things have to be done on your own, of course. Reach out to the people around you – whether they’re friends, family, partners, neighbours or the rest of your local community – and make yourself stronger through being a part of something bigger. Help others, build relationships and give everyone the support they need.
Here’s to a great 2017!
So, with the sun of 2016 already slipping inexorably below the horizon, it’s time to take a deep breath, find our resolve and face 2017 with a renewed sense of purpose, pluck and positivity.
How you make 2017 great will be entirely down to you and those close to you. But I hope this little manifesto has given you a few ideas of places to start, and ways to move forward.
Let’s raise our glasses, ring in the new year and start changing our futures, one step at a time.