Every year towards the end of December, it has become a tradition for the big wordsmiths to choose one word that sums up the shared experiences of the previous year. In this era of dysfunctional workplace interactions –silent abandonment, silent shooting, productivity paranoia, The big regretand boomerang employees— It’s no surprise that wordsmiths have attached themselves with negative words to consider 2022. The human mind is hard-wired to focus on the obstacle of survival. So it’s not surprising that this “negativity bias,” as neuroscientists call it, is reflected in the words chosen by mainstream vocabularies.
Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2022, for example, is gas lighting— a word that describes the strategy of deliberately undermining someone’s perspective to make them doubt their observation or experience of an event and endanger their mental health.
The choice of the Oxford English Dictionary is goblin mode— a slang term, often used in the expressions “in goblin mode” or “to go into goblin mode”. It refers to a type of behavior that is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slothful, or greedy, usually in a way that defies social norms or expectations.
With all the growing crises facing the world during 2022, it’s perhaps no surprise that Collins Dictionary chose the word permacrisis— a term that describes an extended period of instability and uncertainty — as their word of the year. The term “perfectly embodies the giddy feeling of darting from one unprecedented event to another as we darkly wonder what new horrors might be around the corner,” according to Guard editor David Shariatmadari.
Arianna Huffington Word of the Year
At the end of each year, I like to consult Ariana Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, about her choice of words. And there’s a reason why. Unlike other dictionaries, Huffington chooses words that communicate hope, optimism and possibility as we face the world’s obstacles and challenges, which is what the world and the workplace need as we move into 2023. When you look at many other words in the names of the years, they choose words that denote negative aspects of the previous twelve months. Huffington’s word for 2021, for example, was “Resilience+,” and she says it’s her leading contender for word of the decade.
Her word of the year for 2022 is, are you ready? Drum roll. Human energy. “This has been a year where we’ve made huge strides in recognizing the truth about how people complement each other and achieve peak performance with human energy moving to the center of our conversation about work, wellness, and our physical and mental health,” she told me. “For decades, science has become increasingly clear that humans are not machines, and that powering through exhaustion without taking time to recharge only leads to exhaustion. But it takes time for culture to catch up with science. Next year (2023), our collective challenge is to turn our awareness into action.”
What’s the big deal about a word?
You may ask, “What’s the big deal in a word?” But words have enormous power, and the words we use affect our mental health. When used to sum up a year, words can influence a culture’s moods and thoughts about its future. They guide our thoughts and emotions and can bring hope or despair, especially as billions of people around the world continue to make sense of and move beyond deep pandemic grief and compromised mental health.
Words create mindsets that affect employee engagement, productivity and the company’s bottom line. When America’s workforce has hope, cares about their superiors, and is enthusiastic about their role in the workplace, the company’s bottom line automatically goes up. A body of research has shown time and time again that optimism dwarfs pessimism and that optimists advance their careers faster and farther than naysayers. According to Huffington, “It’s actually akin to happiness—another quality we tend to idealize as an end state. But Professor Richard Davidson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has shown that we can actually train ourselves to be happier through practice in very tangible and measurable ways, giving ourselves the resources to deal with life’s ups and downs.
The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America report found that nearly eight in 10 adults say the pandemic is a major source of stress, and 60% are still overwhelmed by the problems America is currently facing. According to a CDC report, 41% of Americans have struggled with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse related to the pandemic. These are depressing numbers, but it’s important to remember that while our need for endurance is endless, so is our human capacity for it.
“In a sense, as we look back on the year behind us and look ahead to the new year, coming to the realization that there will be no idyllic ‘post-pandemic’ future, we are moving into adulthood as a culture,” Huffington noted. “When we are children, we think that a day will come when we will come, when we will have everything we want, when we will they feel sorted and complete. But when we grow up, we realize that that day never comes, that life is a constant process of change and evolution. Similarly, we did not wait a return to normal to realize that there will never be a static normal, that we will never be able to just sustain our lives.”
Ariana Huffington will speak at Resistance 2023the largest free resilience conference on the planet, on September 8, 2023.