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At the tail end of the astonishingly depressing year that was 2020, a faint ray of hope could be found on social media.

“There are some things to be thankful for amid the coronavirus pandemic,” @fuwarin wrote on Twitter. “For one thing, I don’t have to visit my in-laws.”

Indeed, a number of people probably heaved a sigh of relief upon receiving news that annual family gatherings, company-sponsored drinking parties, year-end social events and other stressful new year activities were being canceled in response to COVID-19.

“First, I loved the fact that I didn’t have to commute to the office every day,” Twitter user @Yoshinobu wrote. “And I can now watch all the concerts and performances I couldn’t get tickets for.”

Twitter user @Momo didn’t mince her words in summing up the year that has passed.

“I was able to reorganize all my relationships amid the pandemic and cut those that I didn’t think were necessary,” she wrote. “I don’t have to meet people I don’t want to drink with anymore.”

Ah, the joy of spending a holiday season without obligations! By many accounts, the break is just what everyone needed after a year of anxiety, stress and an ongoing cycle of bad news.

Indeed, sociologist Noritoshi Furuichi told Tokyo FM that his relationships have become “a lot more sophisticated.”

“I discovered that I didn’t need so many people in my life,” Furuichi said.

Furuichi had traditionally organized a lavish birthday party every year, inviting dozens of friends and acquaintances he wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to spend time with. The pandemic made it impossible to host such a party this year.

“I started thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t need to meet these people at all, as I only see them once a year anyway,” Furuichi says. “I learned to draw clear boundaries in my relationships and I now know who the most important people are in my life.”

Several listeners called into the station to describe their experiences over the past year.

“2020 was my freshman year,” one university student says. “There was no spring ceremony and no going to campus this year, so I couldn’t make any friends in real life. But we’re all in the same boat and, in the new year when we all get to see each other, I have a feeling everyone will make friends really fast and enjoy each other’s company.”

“I listened to the radio a lot, and that connected me with like-minded fans on social media,” another student says. “My circle of friends really expanded, and they’re all people who matter to me.”

Many people appeared to re-examine their relationships over the course of the year, including married couples. According to a survey conducted by Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co., the number of married couples whose relationships had improved as a result of the pandemic was three times the number of those who said their marriages had worsened. The isolation that couples experienced during the nationwide state of emergency reportedly sparked deeper conversations and forced both parties to get to know each other again, which, in turn, led to a renewed sense of love and camaraderie.

Healthier relationships were definitely welcome during 2020, but a number of other issues have also added a little positivity to the year, according to a report on trend-research.jp.

“I’m now in the habit of hand-washing and disinfecting assiduously,” notes a woman in her 20s. “Also, I don’t catch colds anymore.”

Meanwhile, a man in his 60s says he’s happy to avoid spending time in “long, wasteful meetings,” while a woman in her 40s was pleased to finally learn to use her computer.

Another respondent says she used to be too shy to go to restaurants alone before the pandemic but, “now that takeouts are the norm, I get to dine on good food in the comfort of my home.”

Finally, the pandemic has helped a number of people who prefer to wear masks whether or not there’s a contagion spreading.

“The one good thing (about the pandemic) is that I can now wear a mask at all times,” @ar _frn writes on Twitter. “It’s great because I typically can’t look people in the eye when I talk to them, but I can do that if I’m wearing a mask.”

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