It’s easy to write off 2020 as an utter disappointment without a second thought. However, I think this year needs to be examined with a more detailed perspective. Yes, this year has brought adversity, inconvenience and uncertainty, but I don’t think it's truthful to say that every moment of 2020 was a loss. After months away from friends, this semester’s small moments of joy, pleasure and peace has made me realize the importance of learning how to “appreciate the small things.”
My first attempt to try and appreciate the smaller things in life wasn’t easy. I thought an obvious place to start was with the weather, but when the weather app on my phone says “95 degrees and 90 percent humidity,” what am I supposed to say? At least it's not 96? No, not exactly, but I did learn that when the temperature was noticeably cooler at 84, consciously recalling how much more miserable the weather was just a few days before made me appreciate the subtle change.
This process of appreciating something as trivial as the changing weather — from hot to cool or rainy to sunny — is applicable to almost anywhere else in life. The underlying principle in this process is simply noticing the relative improvement. I found that focusing on relative rather than absolute comparisons makes appreciating the little things so much easier. However, making this change to my own life’s perception still required considerable effort. I had to deliberately consider what was happening in my life.
So as I was trying to recognize these smaller changes, I realized how easily we forget the pace of our lives. Whether it’s quick or slow, we tend to only notice sudden changes in pace. These changes are similar to the change in speed while exiting the highway. As you suddenly transition from moving along at 70 miles an hour to 35 miles an hour, you only then realize how fast you were going by feeling the change in speed. Like a car on the highway, I didn’t realize how quickly this semester was moving until I went home for Thanksgiving and suddenly felt the pace of life relax.
These changes in pace, like the changes in weather, often prompt some reflection and appreciation for an experience that might otherwise seem insignificant. These are the moments that are worth remembering this year. Moments like coincidently reuniting with old friends at the grocery store, or like petting a dog on the Lawn on a Friday after a week of midterms. Sadly, 2020’s overall gloom can easily make us forget these moments that are worth remembering, which is why learning to appreciate the small things is so important this year.
By taking this perspective, we can more easily come to terms with the unfortunately often-forgotten truth of 2020 — almost all of it has been outside of our control. There’s little we can do about the fact that we attended classes in boxes on our computers, or the fact that some of us still haven’t seen our friends since March.
These realities are just more reasons to appreciate the little things. We can’t control much, but we can control how we choose to look at things. Taking advantage of and commemorating the small successes and subtle improvements are crucial for continuing to live through these circumstances as we move into winter break.
For example, I’m simply looking forward to the feeling of contentment that follows the end of exams. Not having to ask myself what assignment is due next is a small but meaningful change in thought after the past four months. I also can’t wait to simply have more time for my personal hobbies. Like some of us, I’ve felt more of my free time disappear this semester, and I’ve missed some of the satisfaction and fulfillment from doing the things I truly enjoy.
I know at some point these feelings will fade, the holiday hot chocolate will chill and the fatigue of winter break will set in. That’s when learning to appreciate the small things will have the most value. So intentionally look for them — whether it's a text from a friend or a nicer day outside. There’s almost always something to treasure, and if not, there’s always tomorrow.
Searching for something new to appreciate sadly becomes harder over time, but it's never impossible — it just requires a little more effort.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that next semester will simply mirror most of our experience this fall. So, as we sit at home during December and January and reflect on our experience this past semester, don’t leave out the moments worth treasuring or the experiences that made this year worth the struggle. Then, as we return to Grounds for another busy semester, remember to look for those moments as they happen. Appreciating these small moments will help us draw out the best of 2020.
Mario Rosales is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org