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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Year-end lessons: Adaptability, resilience, hope

These deeper learnings from the covid-19 pandemic had an impact on our money lives

It is a different feeling to actually go through difficulty. Reading about the 1930s Depression or watching movies that tell stories of a great crisis and how the human spirit rose up to the occasion and emerged stronger—battle scarred, but better—after it fought back, is very different from facing real danger. It is another thing to actually collectively go through such a crisis. It may not seem so when we plug into the social media groups or even the family and college WhatsApp groups—but the world has actually become a much better place than ever before. Swedish physician, academic, and public speaker Hans Rosling documents this beautifully in his epic book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. And it took the pandemic for us to discover this.

In the year 2020, everything was under attack—health, livelihoods, wealth—and there was nowhere to escape out to. A certain wealth status allows you the option of exporting your physical self out of a conflict zone or situation. But the early days of the pandemic were a learning that it is all here and now—there is nowhere to run. When we read of extreme bravery in the battlefield where 300 people hold off armies thousands strong, it is a similar feeling—there is nowhere to run to and you give it everything.

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For many, the pandemic was that point where you fought back with all you had to retain the lives built and lived. We learnt three things about ourselves that had got lost in the din of our speedy pre-covid lives. If money is a physical manifestation of value, then these three lessons had important bearings on our money lives.

Adaptability: Many of us thought that work from home was not an option, not because the work place did not allow it, but because the home is too comfortable, too disruptive and too hot or cold to work out of. We all adapted to work, housework and totally new protocols of safety almost instantly if we take one month as 0.1% of an average human lifespan of 72.6 years. We adapted to lower incomes, job uncertainty and a very uncertain future. It made us work harder, smarter and adapt to new ways of remaining relevant in the work place. Mental flab begins to build in good times. Covid ensured that for a large swathe of people that flab got worked out. Many people are emerging with new skills and a new focus on remaining work-worthy in an uncertain world. This is good news for our money as awareness and alertness are good for strong and steady income flows.

Resilience: If smaller shocks need adaptability, deeper hits to our lives need resilience—a quality of toughness, an ability to bounce back from very adverse circumstances. Prosperity dulls our sense of economic danger, and this is especially true for those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Indian mass affluent parents cotton-wooled their kids to protect them from the trauma of economic deprivation that they had faced growing up in the Indira Gandhi’s socialist India in the 1970s and ’80s. The sheer global economic shock of the pandemic has been a wake-up call, especially for those who either lost jobs or could not find work after getting expensive degrees at home or from abroad. Individual resilience is what stitches together to make nations resilient and we saw resilience manifestly in the stock markets, as the danger was digested and spat out. The fact that the world would not go back to the caves or carts, but that people will continue to consume and produce, was understood by the stock markets, globally, fuelled by the easy money policy across central banks. Investors who stayed with their plans, benefitted from the resilience of the economies.

Hope: It took the pandemic’s threat to our lives to rediscover the strong evolutionary push to live. Our basic programming is to survive as a species. Just as it is for a fruit fly. Our brains come in the way of this instinct and we feel depressed and suicidal—going against this very strong genetic memory of survival. The threat of not having this life—and not being able to just throw money or designations or power at this danger—got us back face to face with hope. That strong surge of emotion that springs forth and says: I will survive because there is plenty to look forward to. It is hope for a better future that many people rediscovered over the duration of the pandemic. Reworking our relationships with money was a key part of this rediscovery and many people found that real human relationships were truly priceless as were our own relationship with a healthy body. A happier state of mind is the tilled rich soil for better work and better decisions about life and money.

If you felt left out of these three lessons. Fear not, there is more opportunity to learn ahead as I don’t think nature is done with us just yet—there is more ahead where this came from.

Monika Halan is consulting editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation

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