Hello my dear happiness nerds, welcome back!
The 2010s were packed with revolutions, atrocities, and wonders, which, based on the color of your lenses, may leave you hopeful or despaired. Here’s a list of the “best and worst” that happened in the 2010s:
- An earthquake in Haiti killed over 200,000 people
- The Arab Spring filled millions with hope about a better future, but left most in enormous suffering and turmoil
- In addition to a dozen world records set by other elite athletes, Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in just 2:01:39 (and went even below 2 hours in a huge concerted team effort)
- Smartphones really took off and so did social media and “selfie culture”
- #metoo finally sparked a long overdue conversation (and a few prominent perpetrators got to face some consequences for their wrongdoings)
- The most valuable businesses were the consumer-oriented likes of Amazon, Google, and Facebook in contrast to the more enterprise-oriented giants ten years earlier (e.g., IBM, Cisco, and Oracle)
- The richest billionaire in 2019, Jeff Bezos, accumulated almost 3.3 times more money than his counterpart in 2009, Bill Gates (that’s a difference of almost 100 billion USD!)
- Traditional industries have been challenged by transformative platforms like Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, and the blogosphere
- The music charts became more globalized with the rise of reggaeton and K-pop
- Cinema has finally reached the critical threshold of 98% superhero movies and remakes (this one’s supposed to be a joke, albeit a bitter one)
- More farm animals than in any previous decade lived in abhorrent conditions and died for our short pleasures during meals
- Human influence on the planet became so huge that we arguably entered into a new geological age: The Anthropocene (accompanied by the sixth and largest mass extinction of animal and plant species in Earth’s history)
- Human-caused climate change became an undeniable fact and Greta Thunberg started a global movement in the right direction, while most governments continued to do next to nothing to heal the planet
- Terrorist attacks, civil wars, and armed conflicts on all continents, too many and depressing to be named, began or continued, while there were also a few de-escalations and peace treaties
- A new refugee crisis displaced millions of people from their homes in one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes in human history
- The rise of populism lead to many monsters in power such as Bolsanaro, Duterte, Erdogan, Johnson, and, of course, Trump
- China rose to a new economic and political super-power, but at the expense of their people’s liberties
- At last, a few countries legalized same-sex marriage
- An increasing number of countries legalized marihuana, and clinical research with psychoactive substances has seen a renaissance
- Mental health awareness has been growing and more people than ever were finally seeking professional help
- Space missions found organic compounds on Mars, the European Space Agency managed to land a probe on a comet, and SpaceX demonstrated that they could reuse their rockets
- Scientists captured the first image of a black hole, discovered the Higgs Boson, and measured gravitational waves
So, where does this long list leave you and your happiness? It may surprise many of you, but I would say: Nowhere. This list shouldn’t matter for your happiness. I’m not saying that it doesn’t – many of the points affected countless people worldwide and moved me to tears of pain and joy while writing about them. Obviously, we have to increase our efforts to reverse climate change, end wars, and help the ones in need. The 7.5 billion of us yield tremendous power: We can change the fate of the earth not only by using our political voices wisely, but also by consuming less, volunteering more, and donating generously. You are part of the solution.
What I’m also saying, though, is that you deserve to be happy no matter what happens in the world. And you should strive to be happy no matter what happens in the world. Not in a superficial way, as in never be uncomfortable again and always have the most epic adventures. After all, these selfish desires usually lead to the suffering of others, as evidenced in sweatshop labor, mass tourism, and failing to actively help others. No, the happiness I’m talking about goes deep. It is the place within you that is calm and peaceful like the bottom of the ocean, no matter what storm is raging on the surface above. I recently proposed a three-step path towards such deep happiness and I’m sure there are many other viable paths out there, too.
This deeper happiness is not a quick or selfish fix. It is a demanding and rewarding necessity. You need the strength that comes from such happiness in order to be able to really face the challenges of the decade ahead. While caught up in your insecurities, worries, and anger you will not only profoundly suffer yourself and poison the lives of others, but fail to have the perspective and energy to help others. This is why I think you have to fix yourself, so you can more effectively help others. Like you always hear during the airplane safety instructions: “Please attend to your own oxygen mask first before helping others.”
Therefore: Please get to know yourself in the 2020s. Identify your values and act in accordance with them. Declutter your life from the big social media game, the mindless shopping, and the other societally endorsed paths to misery for all. Reduce your life to what matters and experience the power that comes with focus. Above all, increase your capacity to love and make it a habit to spread love in the world: Through kind gestures, meaningful volunteer work, and generous donations. Everybody will win – most of all you, psychological science has shown this over and over again. Your happiness is in your hands: Make the 2020s the decade you finally learn how to truly love and give.
PS: To help you towards a happier and more productive year and decade, I’ll soon start a new series on simple rituals that can shift your mindset and improve your life right from the start of using them.
PPS: I know that technically the decade starts in the year 2021, but in my opinion we don’t have a year to waste until we take action towards our own happiness and ultimately the happiness of us all. So, instead of pointing this out in the comments, rather let me know how you want to improve your happiness and the happiness of others in the years to come!
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