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The Best of 2019 and Top Trends for 2020

And here's to Thriving in the new decade.

Steven Heap / EyeEm
Steven Heap / EyeEm

Welcome to the end of the year. Was it just me, or did 2019 last a very long time? Whether or not it overstayed its welcome, not unlike a dinner party guest who just won’t leave (“hey 2019, can’t you see we’re loading the dishwasher?”), in two days it will finally be forced to find its coat and say its goodbyes.

Actually, I’ve always loved New Year’s, less for the revelry than for the reflection. The practice of pausing to look both backward and forward, of taking stock of where we’ve been and of being hopeful for where we might yet go is always a good idea. But it’s not easy to do in today’s 24/7 world, and New Year’s is one of the few times when our culture actually conspires to help us take that pause.

In that spirit, here’s a look back at some of the year’s biggest stories that fueled the zeitgeist for Thrive Global, a look forward at some trends we’re watching for in 2020, and a selection of some of my favorite pieces we ran this year.

Looking Back

2019 was a year in which burnout was breaking into the zeitgeist all year long.

There was generational burnout: The year kicked off with Anne Helen Petersen’s viral piece about burnout among millennials. Petersen’s cri de coeur clearly touched a nerve, but, as I explained in my response, Burnout Doesn’t Have to Be “The Way Things Are,” I’m hopeful about millennials being the generation to reject burnout. Thrive continued the conversation on the Today Show here. And for more science and tips, here is our deep dive on all things burnout.

There was employee burnout: The other burnout bookend came at the end of the year, with The Verge’s explosive account of the toxic culture at the influencer-beloved luggage company Away. While there were many specifics of what created burnout at Away, the story had lessons for all companies about burnout, company culture and growth. Here is what I wrote about it: Why the Away Story Is a Wake-up Call for Every Business Leader.

There was political burnout: In November, the American Psychological Association released its 2019 Stress in America report, which found that the presidential election was one of the top sources of stress. Another study found that politics was literally making many of us sick. While we are working to change our political system, we can also change how we react to it. Here is the guide I wrote for staying healthy as we go into the 2020 election

Political burnout in 2019 wasn’t just a discussion about voters — it’s a huge issue for candidates, or at least it should be. Here is my reasoning why exhaustion should be added to the fitness-for-office checklist.

After Bernie Sanders’s heart attack, we missed a chance to widen the health care debate beyond just access to medical insurance once we get sick but we still have 10 months to go during which we can move the health care debate upstream to keeping Americans healthy and not just on how to pay for disease.

There was global burnout: In May, the World Health Organization significantly elevated the definition of burnout in its International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. It was a milestone in the recognition of burnout as a global epidemic. As the broad media coverage showed, it confirmed that people all over the world are hungry for solutions. Here is my piece on burnout being now officially a workplace crisis.

Looking Forward

Here are a few trends we’re looking forward to for 2020 — all antidotes to the burnout we saw in 2019.

The increased importance of company culture: As we saw with the Away story — especially the outraged public reaction — companies ignore workplace culture at their peril. In 2020, employee culture will finally be seen for what it is: an existential issue, both internally and externally. In April, at Thrive Global we launched the Thrive XM Index, which allows companies to define and measure their people experience and use the insights to create a thriving, resilient company culture: The Thrive XM Index: Closing the People Experience Gap.

Big changes start with small steps: Many resolutions will be made next week. And most will be quickly dropped. But not if people pay attention to the emerging science of habit change. Clearly, if we’re going to beat the global burnout epidemic, we need to make big changes to the way we work and live. As the science shows, however, the key is to start small. That’s why the core of Thrive’s behavior change platform is built around Microsteps, which I wrote about for the New York Times’ Smarter Living section. 2020 can be a big year of progress, but only if we start small: How Small Habits Can Lead to Big Changes.

Technology and data being used for good: The last few years have seen a profound shift in our relationship with technology. We’re now at a crossroads — technology can be used to augment our well-being, or it can be used to consume it. There’s plenty of evidence of the latter, but my prediction is that in 2020, it’s going to be more of the former as well. For example, the conversation around A.I. is going to expand beyond just automation and job losses and address all the ways in which A.I. can support the behavior change we need to combat the increase in chronic diseases and our mental health crisis. 

In November, Apple announced some game-changing news on health care research that will use data not just to track our health but, ultimately, to improve it. Here’s how we can all be a part of it.

Equality at home will drive equality at work: Women continued to make strides in the workplace in 2019. But one reason women pay a heavier price for our culture of burnout is because of what’s happening outside the workplace — in the outsized share of work they’re doing at home. That’s why Eve Rodsky’s book, Fair Play, touched such a nerve. If we want to move the needle for equality at work for women in 2020, we’ll need to start with the work that happens at home.

The Year in Thriving

And before you go, here are some of the pieces I wrote about on Thrive this year that we are planning to expand on in our coverage in the year ahead.

The Future of Health Is All About Going Upstream
It’s time to focus on root problems, not just the symptoms.

Compassionate Directness: The Cultural Value That’s the Ultimate Competitive Advantage
Creating a culture of continuous and honest feedback allows both employees and the company to grow.

What’s Missing From Our Conversation on Self-Care
Giving is like a self-care miracle drug.

Don’t Call It a Vacation
Thrive Time is the key to sustainable success.

Why the Style Gap Is Costly for Women and How to Close It
Find something you love and wear it… again and again and again.

Thriving Mind: It’s Time to Turn the Mental Health Conversation From Awareness to Action
Let’s commit to small everyday steps that unlock better mental well-being.

Introducing “Meditative Story”
A first-of-its-kind immersive storytelling podcast.

What We Need From the Next President
The search for the next president is a search for our better selves.

Subscribe here for my Weekly Thoughts Newsletter, where you’ll find my take on the week’s news, my favorite pieces on how we can thrive even in our stressful world, and some fun and inspiring extras. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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