COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the world, eliciting a paradigm shift where people have altered their perspective on, and approach to, life. Recognizing the precariousness of our physical and financial security has led to a renewed sense of gratitude - and is acting as a catalyst for self-transformation. 

The Fresh-start Effect

Nearly half of our global respondents told us that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them appreciate what they have (47%), and they hope it will spark positive change in the world (47%). In Brazil those numbers rise to 59% and 69% respectively. This feeling of appreciation stands in stark contrast to the 15% who say they feel bitter, having been “robbed of the things that they will never have again.”

In Focus Global Covid19 Impact trends

This trend toward positive responses to the pandemic is rationalized by American cognitive scientist Laurie Santos who explains, “COVID-19 was an awful time for many of us. There’s lots of evidence for what’s called post-traumatic growth - that we can come out stronger and with a bit more meaning in our lives after going through negative events.” This is an example of what American economist and author Katy Milkman calls the “fresh-start effect.”   

A 2020 survey from the Pew Research Center finds that 86% of Americans say there is some kind of lesson or set of lessons for mankind to learn from the coronavirus outbreak. In line with this, our research shows that the pandemic has inspired people to reflect on their life choices and use the long pandemic pause to reflect and reprioritize. People have been on the lookout for things to help them discover new solutions (43%). As summarized by British author and journalist Gillian Tett, “returning to ‘normal’ does not necessarily mean re-embracing the old systems.”

Inspiration arouses new desires, inner needs and a sense of mission. It makes me have courage to innovate or be willing to find another way.

Chinese respondent, female, millennial, Nurturer segment

Actioning Change

Our research shows that people are looking to re-envision the future and are searching for vehicles that enable them to action change. Nearly half of global respondents (49%) told us that they are drawn to moments that help them look at things in a new way, while nearly a quarter point to a change in perspective as an outcome of inspiration. When you look at the full list of inspiration outcomes during these post-COVID times, those ranking highest have more to do with self-transformation than self-enhancement. Considering our COVID-restricted social lives, it is interesting that they are (in summer 2021 at least) rarely related to building connections with others.

TREND Self Transformation Recent Outcomes

Acts of self-transformation are more evident among those who feel inspiration is “vital to their life,” as compared to those who do not find inspiration important. The former are also more likely to express themselves more creatively as a result of inspiration.   

A comparison of inspiration outcomes shows that those who have remained open to inspiration despite the pandemic are more apt to make behavioral changes like “join a cause I believe in” or “enroll in a course,” rather than simply change attitudes or emotions.

I did a running challenge for charity. It was hard going, but it did make me feel good about myself.

UK respondent, female, Boomer+, Nurturer segment

TREND Self Transformation 03 Pandemic Effect 2x
The Pandemics Effect on finding moments of inspiration

A Better Post-COVID Life

When we look at the kinds of cues driving this overwhelming trend toward self-transformation, the most popular sources can be interpreted through the COVID lens. Being outdoors in nature was one of the few means of escape during lockdown, and it ranks number one in terms of all categories of inspiration sources. Indeed, the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2021 that nearly half of Brits said they were spending more time outside during the pandemic than before.

Other high-ranking sources of inspiration include acts of kindness (third), such as fetching groceries for the elderly as so many communities did during the pandemic; scientific discovery (seventh), like the COVID vaccines which have (hopefully) saved us from physical and financial ruin; and movies/TV series (second) - our failsafe source of entertainment during the pandemic. Other lockdown-friendly activities like moments of quiet/simplicity and reading also rank high, the latter enabling a welcome escape from reality. Doctors rank fifth in terms of most inspiring people, and COVID icons like the late centenarian fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore in the United Kingdom are cited as most inspiring “celebrities.”

I was inspired to make food donations - it moved me a lot in this time of pandemic.

Brazilian respondent, male, gen X, Guardian segment

Traveling ranks first among experiences and high across all inspiration sources. It’s also the third ranked Inspiration outcome. One explanation is many people converted lockdown into an opportunity to take long-stay holidays, a trend we covered in the “Future 100: 2020” report. Another is that the travel ban has sparked wanderlust. Yet another explanation could be that people crave change. They want to get away, and 83% are more likely to be inspired if they do so with others.    

COVID has made us all a bit more reflective, too. Stories of more hedonistic pleasures in life rank low - humor/comedy (13th), enjoying life/indulgence (14th), romance (15th). Frivolity doesn’t seem right when people are dying, families are mourning, much of the world is still in some stage of lockdown, and the future of the world economy hangs in the balance.   

People in our bubbles - spouses, parents, children - were our most important lifelines during lockdown. When we are inspired by people, they are those who are close to our hearts, know us well and are vested in our wellbeing. While intimate relationships have been stretched to their limit, with COVID-related divorce spikes worldwide as reported by the BBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, even failed marriages can be a source of rebirth and rediscovery.    

When you ask people which online experiences have been most inspirational, ranking number one globally are personal stories. When searching for ways to better yourself and make changes in your own life, what better place to look than the experiences of others? People are searching for ideas, and even relying on brands to provide solutions, saying that it is very important that a brand or company inspires them by setting a good example and making people’s lives better.    

Now more than ever it is time for Elevating brands to lead the way and be Magnetic, Motivating positive change. An excellent example of brands rising to the occasion in the United Kingdom is John Lewis & Partners’ and Waitrose & Partners’ joint feelgood Christmas 2020 campaign that demonstrated the larger social impact of a chain reaction of individual good deeds. Their celebration of everyday acts of kindness raised more than $4.1 million for charity. Inspiring individuals to improve our quality of life must figure as one of the few silver linings of COVID-19. 

For me, it’s been very inspirational seeing how hard scientists have worked to solve such a massive problem. It’s taught me that even when things get tough and you don’t feel like they can get much worse, things will always get better.

UK respondent, female, gen Z, Indulger segment

Key Takeaways

  • The pandemic has invigorated a newfound sense of gratitude and inspired people to look at things in a new way, set new goals, and instill better habits. 
  • The inspiration outcomes that rank highest on our list are all aligned with fundamental aspects of self-transformation, with those who were able to find inspiration during the pandemic being more likely to make active behavioral changes like “join a cause I believe in” or “enroll in an online course.”  
  • Brands that can enable this personal process of self-transformation can help catalyze a welcome “fresh start” in the post-COVID landscape.  

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