When Queen Elizabeth II used the New Latin phrase ‘annus horribilis’ to refer to a year in which numerous distressing events occurred, culminating in a devastating fire in Windsor Castle, this expression received public exposure. During a speech to celebrate forty years since her reign began, she referred to “worldwide turmoil and uncertainty” and stated this “… is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”
Meaning a year of horrors, ‘annus horribilis’ refers to a period of time when a series of dreadful things happen. Any of us might experience a year in which a range of unwelcome and distressing events occur. Sometimes a single, significant event can be identified, that expands or spills over to negatively impact various other events and experiences throughout that period of time.
One’s perception is one’s reality; an experience that one person believes is an inconvenience, might be regarded as a disaster, by another individual. Adopting realistic optimism is critical to managing experiences positively. Mistakes or distressing experiences in the past provide lessons that can guide us in the future. Focussing upon current events means not dwelling upon the past or being overly concerned about what might occur in the future; whereas the likelihood of thriving in the future depends upon belief in oneself – especifically believing that one has the ability to handle whatever challenges or difficulties might occur in the future.
In contrast to an ‘annus horribilis’, another New Latin phrase, ‘annus mirabilis’, means amazing, wonderful or miraculous year. It has also been interpreted as a ‘year of wonders’, a phrase used by the British poet John Dryden, as a title for a poem he wrote in 1667 about a range of events that occurred during the previous year. His epic poem focussed on a series of difficult events and illustrated the positive aspects of each. A modern author, Geraldine Brooks, used the title “Year of Wonders” for a book about a year of catastrophes in a seventeenth century English village that becomes a ‘year of wonders’.
Writing earlier than Dryden, William Shakespeare included in his play, “Hamlet”, the phrase: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” He recognised that it is thinking that determines our perspective about whatever occurs. How we think about experiences and the patterns of thought that are established – these are the thoughts that generate associated emotions, whether positive and optimistic or negative and pessimistic. How we think about the past, the present and about the future will alter our perspective and influence the feelings we experience.
Through awareness of our thinking; by monitoring and being open to changing our pattern of ‘self-talk’, it is possible to adopt a realistically optimistic outlook. We are able to consider past experiences as an opportunity to learn and develop, create a positive perspective of current experiences and look towards the future with hope, confidence and enthusiasm. We can, each of us, work towards creating an ‘annus mirabilis’ – a ‘year of wonders’, this and every year.
© Michele Juratowitch