This past year has been hard. Really, really hard. Social distancing, everything canceled or closed, sickness, death, some over-worked and some out of work, and let’s not even get started on politics. But there have been bright spots, too. I want to end 2020 and begin 2021 by looking at the positives that came from this past year: the silver linings we found in the midst of a pandemic. So here is a list of five good things that happened to us in 2020.

1. We learned what is essential.   

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,” writes Henry David Thoreau in Walden. In 1845, Thoreau went to live a spartan life in a cabin “to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” Life during the COVID-19 pandemic probably is the closest most of us will ever get to reducing our lives to what is essential. For many of us, it turned out we could find happiness in solitary activities, like a scenic drive, where we once found it in only expensive or social ones, like concerts or live theater. We replaced Sunday brunch with a group of friends with a hike just one-on-one and learned that it’s the friendship, not the mimosas, that’s essential.

2. We practiced setting boundaries.