My 7-year-old daughter this week was building a time capsule for people in the future. "What should they know about 2022? Cost of living crisis, climate change, war in Ukraine..." she wrote despondently in her missive for human beings yet to come.
"Is there anything good I can include?" she asked in despair.
I felt stumped. It feels hard not to be sensitised to all the terrible things that happen around us. But this year is the first time in my life I’ve seen the phrase "rolling polycrisis". It seems to be everywhere and it has put a name to the sense of multiple calamities.
Ever more mass shootings in the US, inflation rising, wildfires and floods, protests and strikes, heatwaves, droughts, flooding, it’s a list of perpetual doom. And that’s just the new stuff which eclipses ongoing horrors to which we have become inured, from Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Myanmar, Ukraine – it’s a catalogue that could fill this entire column.
So in search of happier news, my optimistic daughter and I spread our net across social media. It’s curious how what has just happened can cast a positive glow on events. Plenty of people quoted Morocco reaching the semi-final of the World Cup, the first Arab country to do so. The Lionesses brought football home to the UK. And a lettuce outlasted a prime minister, which was funny fleetingly, if not really "good" news.
And there were leaps forward. We have the possibility of a vaccine for malaria. A new drug that has the potential to slow down Alzheimer’s disease. Climate reparations were put on the global agenda. Nuclear fusion gives us hope for a clean energy future. As my 7-year old is a huge space fan, the James Webb telescope was firmly on her list of positives.
Many people added the emergence from the lockdowns and ongoing restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic as the biggest bright spot. And while the surrealness of 2020 and 2021 already seems hard to recollect, the long shadow of the pandemic can still be felt. Rates of Covid-19 infections in some parts of the world are rising again. And while many argue it’s good we are unshackling ourselves from the fear of those years, it is hard because many of our loved ones remain at high risk.
In fact, that one of the reasons that this has been a very tough year for me personally, perhaps the toughest year of my life, given the loss of my mother. It was not easy balancing primary care for my parents during lockdowns earlier in the year while caring for my children, not to mention holding an intense job. Several hours each day caring for the elderly is no walk in the park, accompanied by several serious hospitalisations and my mental health challenges.
It seems like when it comes to this feeling of heaviness, I am not alone. The New York Times had a report headlined “The Rising Tide of Global Sadness”, building on a book and research from Gallup called “Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It.”
Anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry seemed to have reached a global high. Given the backdrop of the pandemic, this was no surprise. But the trajectory was rising for over a decade.
Studies have looked at whether generation z is the most depressed generation in human history. And who could blame them? It is a world of widening emotional inequality. As the top 20 per cent of the world experiences the highest levels of happiness since Gallup began measuring happiness and well-being, the bottom 20 per cent has been experiencing the worst.
And yet, while I have felt like a microcosm of the terrible 12 months of 2022, there have also been incredible personal highlights. The first of its kind book for girls was published tackling the challenges of body image at ages 8+. I launched a two year project identifying "consumer inequality" and how brands should engage with minority ethnic consumers. I won some awards. I wrote this column and from the feedback, I know it touched many. My kids said I did a great job as a mum, and they are very thankful.
In the periods of graveness over the past year, there has been immense personal growth. And this has emerged from extraordinary pain and challenges. In reality, maybe it could not have been any other way.
Perhaps the same can be said of 2022 and for the world more generally. We are living through a tough time but there are highlights sprinkled throughout. Let's hope that 2023 brings a period of growth from which we can emerge stronger and happier. At least that is what I am wishing for.