The Word Of The Year And Why It Matters

Each year towards the end of December, it has become a tradition for major wordsmiths to choose one word that sums up the shared experiences of the previous year. After Collins Dictionary unveiled its 2020 chosen word of the year, lockdown—“the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction and access to public spaces”—I ran […]

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Each year towards the end of December, it has become a tradition for major wordsmiths to choose one word that sums up the shared experiences of the previous year. After Collins Dictionary unveiled its 2020 chosen word of the year, lockdown—“the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction and access to public spaces”—I ran across a post by Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington. The article titled, “And the Word of the Year Is … Resilience,” was a reaction to word picks by Collins Dictionary and other outlets such as Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary, who chose other predestined words such as pandemic, quarantine, doomscrolling, coronavirus.

As we mark the close of another challenging year, I love Huffington’s choice for 2021. Many other word-of-the-year names such as the Oxford English Dictionary selected a word that connotes negative aspects of the previous twelve months. But Huffington chooses a word that indicates hope and possibility as we face obstacles and challenges. Her word for 2021 is “Resilience+,” and she says it’s her leading contender for word of the decade.

Why? “Just as streaming platforms from Disney+ and Apple TV+ to Discovery+ and Paramount+ have nowrolled out hours and hours of on-demand content,Resilience+ is the on-demand feature we all need in the new year,” Huffington said. “2021 was the year we watched the pandemic go from something we thought and hoped would have a defined end to, at best, an endemic that will always be part of our lives. And our thinking about resilience is evolving in the same way. Resilience is not, as so many of us thought in the early days of the pandemic, an end state we can reach. It’s a constant process of becoming. In the presence of endless uncertainty, apocalyptic weather events, political instability and new variants that upend the best-laid plans, Resilience+ is the on-demand quality we cannot do without—a constant process rather than a final destination. Not a marker to reach, but a mindset.”

You might be wondering, “What does it matter what the word of the year is,” but it’s not insignificant. The words we use matter. They create a mindset that influence worker engagement, productivity and the company’s bottom line. When the American workforce has hope, feels cared about by higher-ups and has enthusiasm about their role in the workplace, the company’s bottom line automatically goes up. A body of research has shown over and over again that optimism dwarfs pessimism and that optimists scale the career ladder faster and farther than naysayers. According to Huffington, “It’s similar to happiness, actually—another quality we tend to idealize as an end state. But as Professor Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has shown, we can actually train ourselves to be happier through practice in very tangible and measurable ways by giving ourselves the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life. Similarly, we can train ourselves to be more resilient through practice, and that’s the essence of Resilience+.” 

The human mind is hardwired to focus on the obstacle for survival purposes. So it’s not surprising that this “negativity bias,” as neuroscientists call it, is reflected in the word chose by Merriam Webster’s 2021 word of the year: “vaccine.” And the Oxford English Dictionary’s choice is “vax.” But as Huffington wisely suggests, “Resilience+ is both our vaccine and our booster for life. And just as boosters are essential for our physical immunity, a daily process of strengthening our resilience is essential for our emotional and mental immunity.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 23: Arianna Huffington participates in a panel discussion during the TIME 100 Summit 2019 on April 23, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TIME)Getty Images for TIME

“In a sense, as we look back at the year behind us and look ahead to the new year, as we come to grips with the realization that there will be no idyllic ‘post-pandemic’ future,we’re moving into adulthood as a culture,” Huffington observed. “When we’re children we think there will come a day when we’ll have arrived, when we’ll have everything we want, when we’llfeel settled and complete. But when we grow up, we realize that day never comes, that life is a constant process of change and evolution. Similarly we’ve gone from waiting fora return to normal to realizing that there will never be a static normal, that we’ll never be able to just do maintenance over our lives.”

Huffington cited one of her favorite quotes, attributed to philosopher Alfred D’Souza, “’For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.’ As we prepare to enter 2022, it’s dawned on all of us that this uncertainty is our life. And such uncertainty certainly calls for Resilience+.”

So what’s Huffington’s wish for a thriving New Year? “That we take with us into 2022 whatever routines, habits and well-being practices help us to continually build our resilience. And unlike the streaming platforms, which are designed to hook us and, if we binge-watch through the night, deplete us, Resilience+ is about refueling and replenishing so we can meet whatever challenges 2022 holds with less stress, more joy and endlessly renewable stores of resilience.”

Arianna Huffington will be a speaker at the largest cost-free resiliency conference on the planet, Resiliency 2022 (resiliencyandhappiness.com) on September 9, 2022.

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