The final year of the decade, the notorious 2020, will almost certainly go down in the history books. 

It will be known as the year we lost loved ones and our normal way of life en masse. It’s the year we all stayed home — wreaking havoc on the economy and in many cases our mental health

It’s the year we lost George Floyd, unmasking the face of racism in the United States for the world to see. 

It’s the year we lost beloved, iconic figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the whole world — from Portland to Australia — was literally on fire. 

It was a difficult year to endure for most of us, and that’s putting it lightly. In the wake of all this hardship and destruction, could 2020 possibly offer us any comfort, consolation, or hope for the future?

It may all seem bleak, with 2021 not starting much brighter. Still, even in the darkest of circumstances, there are always glimmers of light.

Here are four unexpected bright spots to glean some comfort from a difficult year.

Health and well-being

While COVID-19 threatened health across the globe, some measures brought on by quarantine have actually resulted in unforeseen benefits. 

Anxiety drops in high school kids

For starters, the stay-at-home orders may have actually had a positive impact on high school students’ mental health. 

A survey study conducted by the National Institute for Health Research on secondary school students in southwest England found that young people who were at-risk for anxiety before the pandemic had decreased rates of anxiety during lockdown.

Most sample groups of students also self-reported an increase in overall well-being. 

The researchers reasoned that these unexpected decreases might be related to reductions in academic stressors, social pressure, and bullying, as well as increases in family proximity and connectedness to social communities via social media. 

Healthy, creative hobbies see a resurgence

In addition to less stressed students, the pandemic has also caused an uptick in healthy hobbies, like gardening, baking, and creative pursuits. 

With everyone at home, backyard gardening has spiked. You may be familiar with the benefits of gardening for physical and mental health, but there are more practical reasons why some people are getting outside and sowing seeds. 

Many turned to gardening early on in the pandemic, with uncertainty about food availability and concerns about the excessive social contact that grocery stores require.

Gardening offers a way to supplement grocery runs with homegrown food.

This has been a major boon to the seed industry. According to Reuters, the seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co sold more seeds in March than any other time in its 144 years of being in business. 

Gardening has also brought communities closer together, at least metaphorically, as they pool resources and expertise. Some are even trading seeds and dividing responsibilities for growing specific vegetables among their neighbors. 

Vegetables aren’t the only thing that’s been growing in lockdown. Creativity has been on the rise as well. 

When The Washington Post surveyed its readers, 250 people shared stories about their quarantine-induced creative explorations. These included picking up a new instrument, getting inventive in the kitchen, or returning to their long lost love of painting. 

Furloughed from his job, Joseph Noble got inspired by a mad dash for toilet paper to write a children’s book based on his experiences. He shared his work via TikTok reading, to major applause and likes.

It seems that everywhere we look, we’re seeing unique, creative solutions emerging in response to the pandemic. 

For instance, the Barcelona opera initially closed its doors, only to reopen to a full house. The audience just happened to be plants. The potted patrons were then donated to frontline healthcare workers. 

Illustrations by Brittany England

Pets find forever homes

Many stuck at home have found themselves longing for companionship — what better way to meet that need than by adopting a pet

Both shelters and breeders have seen more demand as many seek to fill the void with a four-legged addition to the family. 

According to the Washington Post, nonprofit shelter the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, saw adoptions double in late June. The shelter had to implement a waiting list because so few animals were still in need of homes. 

The rate of fostered dogs who became forever adoptions from the Animal Care Centers of NYC increased from 10 to 25 percent, reported the Post. 

This is good news for pets who need homes as well as their new families. Being a pet owner is linked to health benefits, offers needed physical contact, and improves social development.

Newfound healthy habits

On top of getting outside and opening their hearts and homes to furry friends, many are giving more thought to healthy habits than ever before. 

Shopping norms have seen a major shift since the onset of lockdown, with many shoppers concerned about transmitting or contracting COVID-19. 

According to a Nielson survey, many consumers are “developing new shopping strategies to protect their health.” 

This includes 52 percent of consumers who report they plan to cook at home more, 35 percent who plan to buy in bulk to avoid extra trips to the store, 23 percent who report growing their own food, and 16 percent who say they’ll be shifting buying practices to local farmers markets. 

In addition, Neilson intelligence indicates that “consumers have embraced a ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) mentality” when it comes to cooking and self-care, both to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and to cut costs. 

These prevention strategies show that consumers are more focused on health than ever before, and they’re changing their behavior to reflect it. 

Putting telemental health to the test

Stay-at-home orders have put strain on many, particularly in the realm of mental health

Young children aren’t able to get needed social interaction, and parents are doing double duty as they work from home and care for their kids.

Single adults may be facing isolation and loneliness, going without touch or the physical presence of others.

One study noted that particular groups may be at risk for increased mental health strain, including children, people with disabilities, healthcare workers, and those coming out of quarantine after contracting the virus. 

Another study noted increased stress for those with psychiatric conditions. Yet another study called the mental health consequences of COVID-19 “the next global pandemic.”

Enter teletherapy

According to the CDC, telehealth sessions in general saw a 154 percent increase in late March. Out of necessity, this trend has been consistent for teletherapy as well. 

In what may come as a surprise to many, initial reports are showing that teletherapy services might be just as effective as in-person counseling. An early 2013 study found that telepsychiatry and psychology is “comparable to in-person care.”

The first large-scale study on telemental health services conducted in 2012 among veterans showed a 25 percent decrease in hospitalizations for those using the services.

A 2017 study found that teletherapy was effective at reducing PTSD in veterans, and may have even resulted in decreased therapy dropout rates. A newer study reports that telepsychology also shows promise in the treatment of anxiety and depression. 

COVID-19 put the results of these studies to the test.

According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in June 2020, more than 75 percent of the 2,000 clinicians surveyed said they’re providing remote services now.

The CEO of the American Psychiatric Association has also said that “telehealth for treating psychiatric and substance use disorders can be adopted quickly, and efficiently, and that most barriers to doing so in the first place may have been regulatory in nature.”

When it comes to general telehealth, physicians and other health professionals are reportedly seeing 50 to 175 times more patients via telehealth services than prior to the pandemic.

The teletherapy floodgates have been opened — which means that therapy may be more accessible to those who might otherwise have difficulty accessing mental healthcare. This includes individuals with disabilities, those living in rural areas, and those who thought teletherapy wasn’t an option for them due to a previous diagnosis. 

There are also new possibilities popping up for individuals who may not have been able to afford therapy in the past. 

Now and in the future, teletherapy may be here to stay. 

Therapy resources

These directories can help you find the right therapist, including virtual and sliding scale options:

These options can help you find free or low-cost clinics:

These apps can connect you with a therapist online or via text:

Find more online therapy options and in-depth reviews here.

To find local support groups, many of which offer virtual options, visit Mental Health America.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Community ties, family bonds

While many of us saw our social bubbles shrink during quarantine, some communities have found ways to thrive and even grow. 

The introduction of pods and quaranteams has been an opportunity to reflect on who we most want to spend our time with.

Many have found that cutting out excessive social obligations has left them with more space to connect deeply to those closest to them. 

Illustrations by Brittany England

A resurgence in multigenerational living

In addition to enriching intimate connections, many people have found themselves “back at home” — whatever that means for them. 

This could be moving back into your family household after leaving the nest, or even returning to their country of origin where extended family and relatives still dwell. 

The real estate website Zillow conducted an analysis of government data and found that 2.7 million U.S. adults moved in with a parent or grandparent at the onset of the pandemic. 

According to data from the National Association of Realtors, multigenerational home purchases rose to 15 percent of sales after March, compared to 11 percent prior to lockdown. 

Some reasons for this include economic downturn and limited job prospects, as well as the need to care for aging relatives.

For many, keeping a family member in assisted living without the opportunity for in-person visits just wasn’t an option. 

This means that some families have an opportunity for togetherness in a time when social support is crucial and difficult to come by. 

Stronger bonds

Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken surveyed 500 families and completed 50 ethnographic interviews.

He found that roughly half of American families he spoke to believe they will come out of the pandemic stronger than before.

He also found that 60 percent of families reported strengthened bonds between mothers and daughters

According to McCraken, quarantine has allowed households to “close the gap between generations.”

No more commutes

One element contributing to household togetherness is the end of the commute

Past studies have demonstrated connections between commute times, stress, and sleep issues. Another study associated longer commute times with physical inactivity and sleep problems.

Less commuting means more time for self-care, home-cooked meals, and family togetherness.

Communities give back

It’s not just families who are coming together during quarantine. Local communities, organizations, and even employers are looking for ways to support one another during this time.

The CDC has even put out a list of recommendations on what we can do to lend a hand and lift others up. 

Illustrations by Brittany England

The earth takes a breath

One study noted that lockdown has had several beneficial effects on the environment, including: 

Less noise

One benefit is a reduction in noise pollution across the globe. For instance, in the crowded Indian city of Delhi, noise pollution is down by up to 40 to 50 percent.

This has a beneficial effect on wildlife as well as human beings, as noise pollution can put strain on sleep quality, heart health, and mental health

Fewer emissions

Normally car-crowded roads are left empty, which means reduced emissions from idling engines.

According to one study, there’s been a 10 percent reduction in particulate matter pollution which may translate to a reduction of 11,000 pollution-related deaths. 

Another study found that the once diminishing ozone layer had increased in concentration by a factor of 1.5–2. 

Cleaner water 

During lockdown, major industrial sources of water pollution have drastically reduced or stopped completely.

The Grand Canal of Italy reportedly turned clear, and the Ganga river in India met many of the parameters for clean drinking water. In addition, many aquatic species reappeared. 

This may be due in part to a reduction in water pollution from the textile and construction industries. 

Ecological restoration

With some businesses closed and cars off the road, the environment has had an opportunity to reset. 

Habitats once stressed by constant traffic are reemerging stronger and more vital. In some cases, dwindling species are making a comeback and national parks are shutting down to visitors, allowing restoration to take place. 

In highly populated areas now empty, wildlife have made some unexpected debuts. This includes everything from goats and sea lions to deer and monkeys.

Illustrations by Brittany England

Anti-racism goes mainstream

One major defining feature of 2020 was the conversation around racism, especially in the United States.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter movement got the attention of the entire world. 

We continued to see the unjust loss of Black lives, but voices of dissent grew louder still. It seemed like more of us than ever were hearing the call. 

The corporate world pays attention

Even corporate America sat up and took notice, with brands from Amazon to WalMart making changes to business as usual. 

According to the New York Times, more than a few major companies have taken action.

Amazon put its facial recognition software on ice, and IBM scrapped their development of similar technology altogether due to the potential for human rights violations.

Adidas and its child company Reebok vowed to fill at least 30 percent of all positions with Black or Latinx candidates. 

Apple implemented an entrepreneurship camp for Black software developers and promised to source materials from more Black-owned suppliers. 

Facebook took big steps toward equity and inclusion, like doubling the number of its Black and Latinx employees by 2023, increasing Black leadership by 30 percent over the next 5 years, and spending an annual minimum of $100 million on Black-owned suppliers.

Companies like Twitter, Target, General Motors, the National Football League, and Nike declared June 19th, or Juneteenth, a paid public holiday, while major banks like JPMorgan Chase and Capital One had early closures. 

Diversity and inclusion is in demand

In addition to corporations making changes to the way they do business, diversity and inclusion professionals have seen major spikes in demand for their services. 

A report by Glassdoor notes that diversity and inclusion-related job postings saw a 60 percent decline when the pandemic began, followed by a major bounce back of 55 percent as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum. 

According to job listing website Indeed, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DB&I) job postings rose by 123 percent between May and September 2020, from entry level up to C-suite positions.

More unity than ever before

Diversity is showing up on the streets, too. 

Professor Dana R. Fisher is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland. She and her team have collected data on the diversity of protests, which she shared in an article on Brookings and published in her recent book, “American Resistance.”

Fisher and her team found that 54 percent of participants in post-George Floyd protests in the United States are white, while 21 percent are Black, 11 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, 7 percent are Latinx, and 8 percent are multiracial or other. 

Fisher notes that these protests are more diverse than the 2017 March for Racial Justice, as well as previous Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights Movement protests. 

This means these issues are touching everyone, across all racial and ethnic demographics.

Major brands drop racist affiliations 

In addition to corporations and mass movements, there has even been a shift in branding and products that highlight race and social justice.

While some question the authenticity of these moves, they indicate major shifts in public opinion and what’s considered acceptable when it comes to racially-charged topics. 

In July 2020, Crayola dropped their Colors of the World crayons that endeavor to include every skin tone in their classic cardboard box. 

According to a Forbes article, the well-known Eskimo Pie ice cream brand swapped their name to Edy’s Pie, and PepsiCo scrapped their 130-year-old racially-charged Aunt Jemima breakfast brand. 

Perhaps one of the most visible wins for anti-racist branding was the retirement of the Washington Redskins football mascot

The team will be known as The Washington Football Team until a suitable name is agreed on, and all Redskins logos will be removed from stadiums, uniforms, merchandise, and the official club address, formerly 21300 Redskins Park Drive. 

Bookshelves fill with anti-racism literature

What we’re reading has shifted as well.

According to The New York Times, 7 out of 10 of Amazon’s and 9 out of 10 of Barnes and Noble’s best sellers were topics related to race in June 2020. These include Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” and “How to Be an Anti-Racist” by Abram X. Kendi. 

Only time will tell if the purchases of these books will translate to true education, reflection, and justice, but the fact that they’re top of mind means that the race narrative is slowly but surely changing. 

Big hurts, small wins

In a year as painful as 2020, it’s essential to our well-being that we remember there’s still good in the world. 

It can come in small ways — like unexpected bursts of creativity or a resurgence of family togetherness. It can come in larger ways, too, like millions flocking to the streets to protest injustice and demand humanity. 

Even when things are difficult, these small wins remind us that darkness doesn’t last forever.

Even in the midst of gloom, we can find the silver linings. 

They act as breadcrumbs of hope that get us through to the other side. And no matter what, the other side will always come.

Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses. You can find her on Instagram.