It’s been quite the ride these last two years. We’ve decided 2022 is going to be better. Here are five ways to make sure it is.

By Kim Pemberton

A global pandemic, natural disasters, social upheaval — the last two years have left many of us with a crushing sense of loss and ongoing anxiety. But the many crises of 2020 and 2021 have also taught us important life lessons, like being mindful and never taking life for granted. Now it’s time to reflect on the positive and look for ways to bring more joy and happiness into our lives. Here are five ways to make 2022 one of the best years yet.

1 Nourish Friendships

Distancing from friends may be a good way to stop the spread of an airborne virus, but it hasn’t been so good for our mental health.

“There’s been a lot more loneliness and reliance on our computers through Zoom and social media,” says relationship expert Lisa Kratz, who has a private counselling practice in Victoria.

Those Zoom calls and social media platforms, while helpful for communicating with others, fail to fully enrich our lives. “We mistake social platforms as friends. We communicate through these platforms, but that’s not an intimate connection,” Kratz says. “I’d encourage people in 2022 to ask what kind of connections are important. It comes down to being in community, to sharing and having friends who are witness to our experiences. That feeling is so important.”

Kratz notes that a true friend is someone who “has your back, no matter what,” but that people often mistake acquaintances as friends. She advises against putting friendship expectations on your acquaintances, but instead working to develop deeper connections with those who are true friends.

“I have discovered most people have a handful of friends and many, many acquaintances,” says Katz. “Reach out and make an effort, and speak from your heart of what you’d like. If you are double-vaxxed, ask if they want to get together for lunch.”

She adds: “The best way to have a friend is to be a friend. Put yourself out there and be vulnerable. That’s where we best connect.”

2 Nourish Yourself

While having friends is necessary for good mental health, experts say it’s equally important to be a friend to yourself — and that means self-care. Besides eating healthy foods, exercising and getting enough sleep, why not treat yourself to something special every week?

Visiting a spa doesn’t have to be a once-a-year activity reserved for birthdays or anniversaries. Just ask Marci Hotsenpiller, who opened Ritual Nordic Spa in December.

It’s Victoria’s first Nordic-style spa, where guests can enjoy the Scandinavian tradition of hot and cold hydrotherapy designed to strengthen the immune system and soothe aches and pains. At Ritual Nordic Spa, this involves a circuit of going from a hot steam room to a cold plunge pool, then resting in a salt lounge with walls made of pink Himalayan salt bricks.

“I come from a Finnish background, and in Finland people go to the spa multiple times a week,” says Hotsenpiller. “We designed it so it could become a weekly wellness ritual. Coming out of COVID there’s a general understanding self-care is not a luxury. It’s vital for healthy living.”

Besides, she adds, since we live in such a digitally saturated world, people are excited to take a break from their screens and try something different like a Nordic spa. “Our motto is: Bathing suits on and cell phones off,” she says.

3 Fit in Fitness

COVID-19? Try the “COVID 15,” that 15-pound weight gain many of us packed on thanks to too little exercise and too much stress eating. (And all those banana bread recipes online didn’t help.) It’s time to reclaim our physical and mental health and bring back the fun, says Michele Shorter, fitness coach and owner of Odyssey, a 24-hour gym in Victoria.

She says clients who had to go it on their own for 10 weeks when her gym was forced to close in 2020 can now “dip their toes back in” and start taking smaller group training sessions, from spin classes to aerobics.

“Traditionally, inspiration is needed to do what we have to do. People stopped working on their fitness goals [during lockdown], even at the risk of gaining a few pounds,” she says.

“The results of not exercising are detrimental not only on your body but also on your mind. Working out builds endurance and strength, and it’s better for your mood and your sleep. When we stopped exercising, any underlying health issues, like high blood pressure, grew worse.”

While Shorter says many people set up home gyms during the lockdown, if they are finding “five pieces of clothing on their elliptical trainer,” it might be time to head back to a professional gym for motivation, once provincial health protocols allow for a safe return. She also suggests a hybrid approach of getting some of your fitness needs met in the gym, and going for a run or a brisk walk on your own.

4 Rethink Work

The pandemic created a huge disruption in our work lives, with many people forced to work from home and change their work routines. That disruption gave people space to take stock of what was — and wasn’t — working for them in their jobs, says Dr. Elango Elangovan, a professor of organization behaviour at the University of Victoria’s Gustavson School of Business.

“We can be a bit more critical of the way we are living our lives with that new perspective,” he says.
But Elangovan points out that looking for meaning in work and meaning at work are two separate issues. With the former, “meaning” comes from the essence of our jobs. With the latter, it comes from things such as the relationship you have with your colleagues, your boss and your work environment.

“Some people could have high meaning at work, but not in the work, or vice versa. If you are lucky, you have both,” says Elangovan. “If you had less meaning in work you could start to think maybe you should be doing something else. Some people can switch to a different job, but for those who can’t, it’s reframing what they do in a different light … Take a step back and look at the essence of what makes you tick and [ask yourself], ‘How do I craft the job to have more of that element to feel more fulfilled?’ ”

The pandemic was the reason Elangovan created the recently launched Optimal Work Life project, which brings together researchers, business leaders and professionals to examine how people can achieve their optimal work life. “The end goal is to arrive at a set of core principles to have a work life imbued with a sense of meaning and well-being,” he says.

5 Bring Joy Home

After the pandemic forced people to shelter in place, we were reminded how important our homes are to our well-being. So why not create a home that brings joy and is truly reflective of who you are — whether that be minimalist, maximalist or something in between?

“There was so much stress with COVID, so people put more emphasis on their happiness at home,” says interior designer Alexis Solomon of MINT Freshly Inspired Design. Most of her clients are leaning toward minimalism as a way of coping with the additional stress brought on by the pandemic. “Since they are spending more time in their homes and working from home, they want to be clutter-free, especially if they are doing a creative job.”

But she’s also had clients who have taken the opposite approach, surrounding themselves with objects they love — like the client who wanted to bring in as many plants as she could keep alive and show off her love of birds.

Solomon maximized the design, but everything was carefully curated so it didn’t overwhelm the client’s space. “For all design styles, choosing objects that work for you and getting rid of those that don’t bring happiness is a no-cost approach to bringing joy into our homes,” says Solomon.

She points out a home improvement that improves a home’s livability — for instance, insulating a cold bedroom, updating your windows or dealing with a mould problem — is also money well spent, which can also bring happiness.