As we reflect on another year gone by, much of what we remember from it inevitably is likely to be negative.
Whether it is shock at attacks by extremists, concern over the economy and divisive political changes in Europe and the United States, or grief over what appears to be an unusually high number of celebrity deaths, it can be easy to let the sadness – and naysayers – grind you down. But that need not be the case.
“Take a step back and reflect on what’s really happening in the world,” says Kathy Shalhoub, a personal development coach from Lebanon, who works in Dubai.
“If you focus purely on the facts, we actually live in a much better world than ever before.
“We forget that the news we’re receiving doesn’t tell us how the world is changing, it tells us what in the world goes wrong. But 50 years ago, a lot more people around the world were dying from hunger and war than they are today.”
Shalhoub's view is backed by Our World in Data, a UK publication that recently demonstrated, using its global statistics database, that in 2016 the world's education standards, freedom and health are all improving, while poverty is on the decline.
Yet a 2016 YouGov survey found that a majority of people globally believe the world is getting worse.
"It's so easy to get sucked into this vacuum of negativity, which impacts your health and your ability to do anything constructive," says Jules Lewis, a motivational speaker in Abu Dhabi, whose book, Moving Mountains: Discover the Mountain in You, was published in May.
“It’s almost like self-sabotage when you join the ‘ain’t it awful’ club instead of focusing on what there is to be grateful for.”
Emirati integrative-nutrition health coach Sarah Al Nowais, from Abu Dhabi, recommends countering negativity by showing gratefulness.
“Be grateful for what you are and what you have right now,” she says. “Some people have nothing and still manage to smile.”
But being grateful, or just wilfully positive, does not have to mean burying your head in the sand. Rather, Lewis advises that people be aware of bad news – but not to let it take over their lives.
“I don’t watch the news, but my husband does, so I’ll ask him, ‘Is there anything that I need to know?’” says Lewis, who is from the UK.
“Be aware of things happening in the world, but don’t let those problems become your world. Instead, stick around positive people and visit places that bring you joy.”
Janine Thompson is a senior legal assistant from the UK, who has three children, 16, 15 and 11. She is determined to start the new year off on a positive note after a tumultuous 2016.
“I’ve been researching how much positive thinking can affect the way you view your life, and I think that’s the way forward for me,” says Thompson, 47. “I’ve had a few trials and tribulations, and sometimes I let it get on top of me, rather than focusing on the good things.
“My eldest son is autistic, which can be hard work, and I get depressed when I think about it too much.
“I just need to start thinking about how lucky I am, and all the good things. I think that will have a knock-on affect.”
This week, she took her first step, by hiring a personal trainer.
“She’s probably going to kill me,” Thompson says, with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to exercise, but I tend to be quite lazy and I’m not happy with how I look.
“I need to be more active. It’s too easy to just sit in the car, then at my desk at work, then come home, and my house is tidy and clean, so I just end up sitting down again.”
Thompson has also decided to embrace “clean eating” as one of her new year’s resolutions.
“I’ve put on so much weight,” she says. “There are so many ‘yummy mummies’ here in the UAE who work out, eat healthily and are as fit as butcher’s dogs – but I’m not one of them. I’ve just got to stop picking at chocolate and grabbing a burger.”
The pitfalls of such health-conscious new year’s resolutions is a lack of wider vision, says Shalhoub.
“We all say things like, ‘I want to lose five pounds,’ or ‘I want to stop eating meat’ – but what is the long-term goal of that?” she says. “It’s better to first ask the question, ‘How do you see yourself when you’re 70?’”
When Shalhoub asks herself that question, she visualises an old lady with white hair and good teeth, riding a bicycle through a market.
“That vision is something that drives me forwards in terms of my health goals,” she says. “It makes me feel good about saying no to junk food, and gives me the motivation I need to exercise every day.”