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Reasons to be cheerful in 2021

As we prepare to say goodbye to a tumultuous 2020, we asked some of our speakers: what are your reasons to be cheerful in 2021?

Sydney Opera House

Earlier this year, two academics out of the University of Vermont developed a tool to measure the world's happiness called the ‘Hedonometer’.  Scraping 50 million tweets per day off Twitter, it gives a ballpark read of the mood of the population. As you can imagine, the Hedonometer has nothing but bad things to say about 2020. Between Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and the ever declining prospects of climate change, it's been a case of troughs and troughs. 

But is there any hope on the horizon? Rutger Bregman and Jess Scully – radical optimists and panellists of Antidote's ‘Reasons to be cheerful’ – think so. In their own ways, they theorise that humans aren't inherently destructive or selfish, and that we ought to go into 2021 remembering that we are capable of great things. So on that note, we took the question to the rest of the Antidote line up: what are your reasons to be cheerful in 2021?


The Hedonometer graph measuring the 'average happiness' of the Twitter population based on the tone and sentiment of their tweets. While Covid-19 has slanted the graph generally downwards, the lowest point on record was in May this year, during the backlash to George Floyd's killing. Image: Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont.

Jess Scully 

I’m seeing a huge upsurge in community-powered climate action. We’re seeing some brilliant leadership, and it’s all coming from the bottom up. I’m talking to parents who are juggling all the funding streams and regulations and converting their schools to solar, and regional retirees who are becoming renewable energy experts. People everywhere are taking matters into their own hands and making positive change – they’re giving me hope! 

Hear from Jess at Reasons to be Cheerful

Rebecca Huntley

I am cheerful when I see groups of committed, generous and thoughtful people unite to address the problems that face their community. Extraordinary things can be done when this happens. 

Hear from Rebecca at Resetting the World

“People everywhere are taking matters into their own hands and making positive change – they’re giving me hope!”

Rutger Bregman

My reason to be cheerful in 2021? There's an amazing generational shift happening right now. If you were young in the 1990s, it was cool to be cynical and nihilistic. But there's a new generation coming: the most ethnically diverse, highly educated and progressive generation ever. Today, it's avant-garde to protest and occupy, to engage and stay true to your values. With Black Lives Matter we've seen the biggest protests in the history of the United States. Greta Thunberg has kickstarted the biggest climate justice movement ever. And COVID-19 has inaugurated the end of neoliberalism – the question is: what comes next? I'm hopeful, because I see that ideas that used to be dismissed as unrealistic, such as basic income and higher taxes for the rich, are moving into the mainstream. 

Hear from Rutger at Reasons to be Cheerful


Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg. Image: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

“I'm hopeful, because I see that ideas that used to be dismissed as unrealistic... are moving into the mainstream.”

Tom Tilley

Personally I’ve always found slowing down difficult, it’s almost always had to be forced on me. When that’s happened it’s generally been positive. I feel like that’s what’s happened to our society this year. Maybe we weren’t addicted to constant growth? 

Hear from Tom at Resetting the World

Maeve Marsden

With theatres reopening, I'm fortunate to be booking in shows again – both those I'll be involved in creatively, and those I'm excited to see as an audience member. I don't know if I'd say live music and theatre make me 'cheerful', that's perhaps a bit reductive, but they bring me joy, inspiration, intellectual engagement, and of course it's my job so I'll be cheerful about earning a living again! This year has seen a massive discussion about representation in the arts, so I'm looking forward to seeing some exciting programming decisions being made, too. 

Hear from Maeve at Queerstories Comes Back Out


Audience at a Sydney Opera House music performance. Image: Prudence Upton

Indira Naidoo

When you change the President of the United States you change the world. Joe Biden is a man of science and a bloke who’s deeply committed to tackling climate change. The delays and denials have been to our own peril so 2021 can’t come fast enough folks!

Hear from Indira at Grow an Edible Balcony

Jessica Irvine

There are so many reasons to be cheerful in 2021. As a nation, we can be so proud of the way we used 2020 to collectively tackle the biggest economic and health challenge in a century. We put petty politics aside and unleashed the biggest government support mechanisms seen in our history. There's every reason we will continue to do so in 2021. And there might even be more hugs. Bring it on. 

Hear from Jessica at Resetting the World


Will fee hugs be back on the cards in 2021? Image: Marcel Hauri

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