Was 2016 the worst year ever? Not for most people

The past year has inspired feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a lot of soul-searching.
The past year has inspired feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a lot of soul-searching.

Judging from social media, everyone has had a terrible 2016. The year and the collective suffering it has apparently inflicted upon us is fast becoming a cliche. We have all been through the mill equally, the narrative goes, hit by the myriad misfortunes of Brexit, Donald Trump and beloved celebrities dying.

Expect a flurry of Twitter posts and Facebook statuses bemoaning the ‘worst year ever’ over the next few days. ‘Can’t 2016 end yet?’ goes the howl of anguish. There is nothing wrong with grieving for public figures who have died, lamenting the departure of someone who inspired you, or expressing sorrow at the nature of the world, but the truth is that 2016 has only really been bad for some of those you know.

Perhaps they lost a family member, were left heartbroken by the end of a relationship, suffered depression, became unemployed, were evicted or were caring for a relative. These are the people who have had a rough time of it in 2016. But will you hear from them? No, because those who are really in pain, mourning and consumed by sadness don’t shout about it. If you are genuinely grieving, you often do so in silence, perhaps only sharing with close friends or family members. People do not tag themselves at funerals on Facebook; they do not post about visiting their mother, father or grandparent in a care home; they do not broadcast the fact that they sat alone in their house, desperate for company, on Christmas Day.

The deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher and George Michael, among many others, have naturally affected the group psyche. We see a world where everything appears to be getting worse and hope is being lost, and these were the people we looked to for relief and happiness. It is understandable to feel sad at the passing of those we admire, but the awkward truth is that very few of us knew the individuals in question. The race to project our mourning the loudest on social media is unedifying and, in some cases, just part of the attention seeking done by a number of people online. Workaday suffering is drowned out by what you might call fashionable grief. Everyone will like your status affirming your love for a dead celebrity, but not telling of your anxiety or low self-esteem.

As someone wisely said on Twitter: ‘If the worst thing that happened to you this year was bad stuff in politics and celebs died, then trust me, it is not your worst year ever.’ There seems to be a perverse desire to take ownership of grief, often by people who have had the least to grieve. Take the Brexit vote. I voted to remain and was disappointed and demoralised by the result. But it was merely a part of what has possibly been the worst year of my life. Continuing to moan about Britain leaving the EU and how hard done by I am as a twentysomething would feel frivolous, because I know what it is like to have something to genuinely complain about. Some people seem to feel the need to claim the misfortune of many as their own.

For the keyboard mourners, 2016 has essentially been business as usual with a lot more tweets to write and sad face emojis to post. In the rush to declare this the worst year of our lives, we ignore the fact that Brexit and Trump are the latest in a long line of negative political developments (depending on your point of view). In the 1980s, people lived with the real threat of nuclear war. Those who survived 1918 and 1942 would likely have scoffed at our perceived woes. There has been terrorism as long as I have been alive and brutal wars in the Middle East are nothing new. The apparent spike in celebrity deaths probably has much to do with the ubiquity of television and the internet.

Many people will head into 2017 with fresh hope and optimism, even while bearing these universal crosses, because they are fortunate enough to have favourable personal circumstances. So unless this year really has been dreadful for you on a personal level, please don’t pretend you have had a bad time. It does the rest of us a disservice.

Originally published on The Huffington Post on December 31 2016.

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