Personal -

Looking Back / Looking Forward

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Inspire(d) Editor-in-Chief Aryn Henning Nichols looks back on the 2022 Inspire(d) themes, looks forward to the inspiration of 2023, and shares some of what inspired her to start Inspire(d) in the first place.

Aryn Henning Nichols on a snowy day in winter 2021!
Aryn Henning Nichols on a snowy day last year (hat from Decorah Hatchery!).

What does Inspire(d) mean to me?

It comes down to stubbornness, partially.

So often, I feel like I have to prove myself to others. As a woman, as a positive person, as a business owner.

Way back in 2003, when I was a recent grad from the University of Iowa, I talked (to anyone who would listen) about my frustrations with journalism. The phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads,” i.e. putting the tragedies above the fold, was incredibly off-putting to me. As humans, we can’t look away – our brains are neurologically wired to look for what’s wrong rather than what’s good (which is why journalism has latched on to telling those stories). It’s called the negativity bias. But we don’t need that information in our lives. We don’t need to know about other people’s personal tragedies.

You know how in kindergarten, they teach you that you have to give three put-ups for one put-down? Apply that notion to the power of negative news. It is (at least) three times as likely to draw you in, and the correction – balancing the scales back to positivity – takes (at least) three times the energy (in fact, this study suggests the ideal ratio is 5-1).

Yes, we should be informed about major things happening across the world. Some of that is bad news. But in day-to-day life, in communities everywhere (and I mean everywhere), there is so much good news.

I proudly exclaim – back in 2003 and now: People are good! We are being led astray by the societal narrative: “Ugh, what is wrong with people? People are awful.”

I call bullsh*t. People are beautiful, unique, inspiring, complex creatures that, for the most part, just want to live a life without too much hardship. We care for others when we’re able, and when we aren’t, people care for us.

Now is the time – not to despair – but to take back the narrative. Step letting the power of a few dictate how we feel about the world and each other. Now is the time to believe in each other. To show up for each other. To speak up. To share the good.

Each New Year, my hope is always that I’ll take time to reflect on the last. On where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, what we’ve accomplished. The hope is that we’ve moved the needle forward at least a little bit. That the goals are getting checked off the list, and life is being lived in the manner we strive for.

When I sit down each quarter to plan a theme for the next issue of Inspire(d), I think about what people need to hear. What the world is going through at that moment, and what might lift folks up and make them feel inspired to go out and make their world a better place. Then the cycle of inspiration continues (always my biggest goal each year).

My 2022 Inspire(d) themes were (and often are) highly influenced by the seasons.

For Spring 2022 (March, April, May), the theme was Restart – On the first of the year, we are bright and shiny with fresh starts and big dreams. The year is one big, uneaten pizza, piping hot and completely unspoiled (is it weird this is always my analogy when I think about fresh starts?!). But come March, life and old habits settle in. Spring is just far enough into the year to pause, assess, and Restart your goals.

Inspire(d) Spring 2022 cover art by Amy Rice
Inspire(d) Spring 2022 cover art by Amy Rice

For Summer 2022 (June, July, August), our theme was With Intention. Our need to go, go, go often drives our summers. We asked our readers to take this fleeting season and its myriad of activities on With Intention.

Inspire(d) Summer 2022 cover art by Lauren Bonney
Inspire(d) Summer 2022 cover art by Lauren Bonney

Fall 2022 (September, October, November) the theme of Lifelong Learning led our pages. The back-to-school season is filled with the excitement of learning new things. And honestly, it’s difficult to do anything in life without learning. We encouraged readers to tackle learning with an openness and willingness – it makes it much more meaningful (and enjoyable).

Inspire(d) Fall 2022 cover art by Nick Chill
Inspire(d) Fall 2022 cover art by Nick Chill

And finally, the Winter 2022-23 (December, January, February) Inspire(d) theme was Defining Enough – At the holiday season, I always find myself in a place of self-doubt. Did I do enough? Am I enough? This issue was about realizing that – beyond having survival needs met – enough is a level we can set for ourselves.

Inspire(d) Winter 2022-23 cover art by Diane Knight
Inspire(d) Winter 2022-23 cover art by Diane Knight

Today, I’m working on the Spring 2023 Inspire(d) – you’ll find out the theme when it hits stands early March! We appreciate your readership over the last year (or longer!) and look forward to seeing all the inspiring things this Driftless community does to tip the scales to positivity in 2023.

You inspire me, friends.

Looking forward,


Aryn Henning Nichols

Aryn Henning Nichols feels so lucky that she’s been able to work on this “experiment in positive news” since 2007! Thanks for being Inspire(d)!