On a personal note, 2018 should be an year in which we embrace our triumphs and happiness but find meaning in our challenges and losses. It is time for new life. To start with the freshness of hope and all the happiness that our hearts can take.
by Ruwantissa Abeyratne
The greater part of our happiness or misery comes from our dispositions and not from our circumstances ~ Martha Washington
( December 31, 2017, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) As we wake up on the first day of January, our thoughts could be twofold: how can I make this year better for myself (in other words, what are my new year resolutions?); and will this year be better for me than last year (in other words, will some unseen hand of providence hand me down some good fortune or luck?). For many of us, neither attains fruition and the world goes on. During the year, some of us may find our future partner; get married, and some of us may retire. But one fact would remain: our character would be our fate in 2018 with regard to factors within our control.
This essay is not a forecast of what will happen in the world in 2018. For that, one has only to visit the website www.businessinsider.com and the predictions of Azeem Azhar, a strategist and product entrepreneur at https://www.technologyreview.com/s/609868/18-exponential-changes-we-can-expect-in-the-year-ahead and its all there, much of which looks like a continuum of what took place in 2017. 2018 will see a proliferation of “crypto this” and “cyber that” and artificial intelligence and augmented intelligence will be the buzzwords. Individually, one cannot influence the world and the megatrends that continue to affect us politically, demographically, technologically, environmentally and economically will flow regardless. But we can contribute to a collective effort to make the world a better place. I offer the following in this context.
Incontrovertibly, 2018 will bring its own challenges to the world both in whole, or part thereof. One of my friends in Sri Lanka has written to me saying that 2017 brought even more misery than in 2016. Let us hope this trend is not a sign of things to come. Inevitably, we would all be facing our own challenges as the year unfolds and it would depend on how we, individually, cope with the challenges we face. We can begin with Martha Washington’s famous statement: “Every body and everything conspire to make me as contented as possible in it; yet I have seen too much of the vanity of human affairs, to expect felicity from the splendid scenes of public life. I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learnt, from experience, that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us, in our minds, wheresoever we go”.
A good example is found in my own profession – air transport. The Economist, in its annual The World in 2018 predicts that in 2018, Americans will take 554 million business trips, which would be an increase of 3.1% more than trips taken in 2017. This portends good, in that the increase will add to productivity and prosperity and people will have more money to spend. On the other hand, increase in travel will add to the misery of the traveller with the risk of premature ageing and increased risk of cardio vascular disease. Added to the misery will be the inevitable loneliness in hotel rooms, isolation from family and the decrease in participation in family life. It would be an egregious combination of emotional stress and overwork as well. The Economist goes on to say: “In large organizations frequent business travellers can be three times more likely to make a claim on their health insurance for a psychological problem than their desk bound colleagues”.
There is also little doubt that the use of smart phones and social media will increase at least by one third over 2017 bringing exponential connectivity and discontent. This is a dichotomy we must continue to grapple with in 2018. On the one hand, as Nikola Tesla said: “If we want to reduce poverty and misery, if we want to give to every deserving individual what is needed for a safe existence of an intelligent being, we want to provide more machinery, more power. Power is our mainstay, the primary source of our many-sided energies”. In this sense, artificial intelligence will continue to flourish. It is estimated that there are currently more than 1700 AI start-ups with over $14.6 billion in total funding from 70 different countries. Revenues from AI applications are expected to reach $47 billion by 2020, from $8.0 billion in 2016. However, on the other hand, social media will bring people unhappiness through “Facebook Envy” according to a study carried out by the University of Copenhagen. Millions of people use Facebook each day. The study, which involved 1095 people revealed: “Those who admitted suffering high levels of Facebook envy, the tendency to be jealous of your friends’ activities on social media, benefited most from going teetotal”.
One of the most inspiring books I read in 2017 is Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy Written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Sandberg – a high profile and high functioning technology executive, activist, and author who is also the chief operating officer of Facebook and founder of Leanin.org., – lost her husband unexpectedly and suddenly during the celebration of a friend’s birthday in a resort in Mexico. It was a profound shock which left her in extreme grief and isolation. The book is about how Sandberg coped with the tragedy and its aftermath with a positive attitude. One reviewer called the book “a critical guide to reclaiming life”. Sandberg wrote in June 2015 in Facebook about her loss: “I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice…You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning.”
The key is to “find meaning” as Sandberg says. One interpretation would be, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, to be “Antifragile” or the opposite of fragile that makes you succumb to circumstances because you have no plan or flexibility to adapt. Taleb defines antifragile as: “a convex response to a stressor or source of harm (for some range of variation), leading to a positive sensitivity to increase in volatility”. A similar analogy is found in Naomi Klein’s book No is Not Enough where Klein says we need to be “shock resistant” and be prepared. Although both authors are alluding to our reaction to global circumstances, their philosophy can easily be transported to our disposition when dealing with our individual circumstances.
Disposition versus circumstance and “finding meaning” is also a growing corporate trend where companies are shifting business investment to research, software and branding. Called “intangible assets” these help companies grow and enhance their profile. Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake, in their book Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of The Intangible Economy offers entrepreneurs advice on how to make the intangible economy thrive and overcome investment ambiguity and circumstance.
On a personal note, 2018 should be an year in which we embrace our triumphs and happiness but find meaning in our challenges and losses. It is time for new life. To start with the freshness of hope and all the happiness that our hearts can take. The change of an year inevitably brings to bear life as a continuing illusion of gentle faces in cracking mirrors, their images clouded by too many tears. As the new year dawns, we could only hope that the new dawn would teach us to tread gently into the future. We should not despair since we know that life gives us, together with misery and exploitation, love and hope to cherish forever memories of our courage that would never fade.
It is only our disposition that can ensure this. And this is one resolution we can make, and keep.
I wish all a happy new year.