2022 Blues: Why it’s still important to press the reset button on a game that hasn’t changed

By Dr. Angelique Jenney, Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health.

As our new year began, there were a lot of grumblings about how the clock was moving forward but we were all still locked in time. 

Sayings like, ‘2022 = 2020, too’, were both true and a little demoralizing. I have written before that Blue Monday isn’t real, but if you are feeling a little less excited about 2022, I think that it is worth talking about.  

As humans, it’s in our nature to look forward to things, in fact we build it into every day of our lives as we reward ourselves with rituals to get through a day.  That morning coffee or perhaps your lunch-hour walk, or maybe the end of the day and a chance to lose yourself for a bit in a Netflix series or a good book.  We look forward to Fridays and holidays and special occasions – we count down to them or create other ways to mark progress to get through each year.  

Since I spend half of my time on a university campus, I often break my life (and goals) down into semesters – companies call these quarters and report on them to investors. What if we thought of ourselves as our own ‘Fortune 500’ product, and we reported back to ourselves quarterly and asked ourselves how we were doing? There is a poignant lyric in one of my favourite Weakerthans songs, “I’m down 12 points, and they’re selling. The graphs in the board room show by the time the market opens in Tokyo, I’ll be worthless” (and if you aren’t familiar with this gift that originates from Winnipeg, check them out by clicking here). They aren’t together anymore, because of course – the game changed for them too, but it doesn’t mean that what they created in those days doesn’t have long-lasting value (which is how we should look at all those years behind us). 

It makes me think about the similarities with New Year’s resolutions; that every year we try to be a little bit better than the year before and that there is an inherent fallacy to that as has been written about in this popular blog post that recommends, “just don’t do it”.   

Some advise that when it comes to our mental health – the ultimate goal should be to learn to accept ourselves just the way we are.  But it’s human nature, and can be good for us to keep setting goals for personal improvement.  

Last year, the name for what we were feeling was ‘languishing’ (read more here) and the idea of another year of that seems just too much to consider right now. 

Perhaps every year of our lives is like a game we really enjoy playing, and you can use all the game analogies you like here (extra lives, free plays, bonus rounds) to describe the ways we try to get a little bit more out of each time we play. And even if that means failure (like getting the worst score ever) rarely do we decide we are just getting out of the game for good – we usually just brush it off and try again.  The intermittent rewards are the ultimate payoff that keep us going – if every day was the best day we wouldn’t have anything to look forward to. If today was the worst day, does that not mean that things can only get better?  The problem is, sometimes the games do change a bit, or at least the rules do, and we might move on to a different one and try our luck anew.  We don’t often really get a chance to start a brand new life per se, but sometimes we get to try out significant changes – a new job, a new relationship, a new place to call home.  Sometimes the game changes, but at the end of the day you are always ‘Player One’.   

It might not feel like a Happy New Year again this year, but it’s a new year just the same, and like all the days before it, your current record of getting through each day is 100% and we know there is no higher score.