There’s so much fear and uncertainty around the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. People all around the world are grappling with it in different ways.
So a question that we all face is: How can we be as calm and happy as we can be, under these circumstances?
Sometimes people assume that a happiness project means being 100% happy, 100% of the time. No! That’s not possible, and even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be a good life.
There are times when we don’t feel happy or calm, and that’s appropriate and natural. But even in those times, we can take steps to feel as happy and as calm as we can be—and in doing so, we help ourselves weather a crisis more effectively, and we also strengthen ourselves to be more helpful to others and to our community.
So, for people who are fortunate enough to be in good health (remember gratitude!), in addition to crucial health measures such as washing our hands and practicing social distancing, what can we do in a challenging time like this? Note—these ideas will change as the situation changes. I’m certain that I will write more than one post on this subject. But for right now, this is what I’m reminding myself, as I’m spending a lot more time inside and away from other people:
1. Take care of your body. This is important for health and also for mood. Get enough sleep, wake up at a normal hour, eat healthy food, don’t drink too much, stick to a regular routine of personal hygiene and dress, and in particular…
2. Keep moving. This may be tough if your normal exercise routine is disrupted. Figure out how to keep active. Even in a small space you can do yoga, you can watch YouTube videos for cardio work-outs, you can use exercise apps, or one of many other resources to give you a work-out at home. Drag those dusty hand-weights out from under the bed. And remember to stand up and walk around frequently. In everyday life, we have to move from Point A to Point B, and it may take more effort to get yourself on your feet. Find a way to keep up with #Walk20in20!
3. Beware of information overload. We all want to stay up-to-date with the latest news, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Learn what you need to learn, but don’t get sucked into the three-hour scroll. Monitor your screen time so you have a solid sense of your habits. You might want to schedule time to check current events—perhaps twice a day—so the news doesn’t overtake you.
4. Prepare. When a crisis hits, people want to prepare. People don’t always prepare in the most helpful and rational ways, but they want to do something, and they will do something. So get informed by a sound source—like this one from the CDC—about how to prepare wisely, and then do it. Action is the antidote for anxiety.
5. Tidy up. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous—such a petty gesture in the face of an overwhelming challenge—but over and over, people tell me that outer order gives them a sense of inner calm and inner focus. It’s irrational, of course, but it’s true. (Like the horseshoe in the Niels Bohr story, it works even if you don’t believe in it.) If you feel frantic to prepare (see #3), and there’s nothing more to be done, clearing up your space might help you feel calmer. It’s concrete action that will lead to a visual improvement. So even if it’s not rational, it can be helpful.
6. Help others. One of my aphorisms is: One of the best ways to make ourselves happier is to make other people happier—or safer, or calmer, or better prepared. Look for ways to help others, to make sure they’re prepared, that they know you’re looking out for them. (See also #6).
7. Connect with friends and family, and reach out to people who might feel isolated. This is a time when technology can really come to our aid! Call, text, do video calls, send funny videos of your dog…we all want to feel connected and cared for. Strong social relationships are a key to happiness, so find ways to help others—and yourself—avoid feeling trapped and lonely.
8. Make good use of this opportunity. Being stuck at home is an opportunity that none of us wished for, but it’s an opportunity nevertheless. Look for ways to use the time to get things done you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. Go through your closets, clear your clutter. (See #4). Learn to juggle. Practice guitar. Find a YouTube work-out class and get in shape. Do yoga. Cook some new recipes. Get back into meditation. Write that novel you’ve been meaning to write. Update your resume. Organize your photos. Also see #8.
In particular, you might keep a journal of this time. It’s a milestone in the life of the world, and when this is all over (and at some point, it will be over), you may be very glad you kept a record. I’m keeping a journal, myself.
9. Catch up on books, podcasts, movies, or TV shows. Is there something ambitious you’ve been wanting to tackle? Maybe instead of the Summer of Woolf I should have the Spring of Woolf. Or maybe I will finally do that item from my “19 for 2019” list, and watch all 92 hours of Mad Men. I have a giant backlog of books about the various senses, the brain, and other resources for my next book—now’s my chance to catch up.
Maybe you loved the Game of Thrones TV show; now you can read the books (more great lines from Tyrion!) Maybe you’ve always wanted to read the six volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (I highly recommend). These activities will give you a sense of accomplishment, and keep your mind engaged and active, and they’ll also distract you from anxiety. In the long run, it’s very helpful to give ourselves mental breaks.
10. Continue or create comforting rituals. You may already have rituals that help you feel grounded throughout the day. These might be helpful now—but it might also be true that you’ll have to adapt now, if your usual comforting ritual is disrupted. Find ways to have pleasant patterns through your day that make you feel grounded and calm. It might be meditation, it might be a cup of your favorite tea, it might be a bedtime story with your children. For my next book (brilliant title TK), I’m researching the power of repetition, and boy it’s powerful.
11. Reach out with love. The last item on my “20 for 2020” list is to “Reach out with love.” What does it mean? It means many things…and it applies in this situation. The whole world is reeling under the weight of events. I hope that this experience, as terrible as it is, can be an event that reminds us all that we’re united in our common human hope for good health and peaceful prosperity, not something that drives us apart. Let’s keep our clean hands to ourselves, and our loving hearts open to others.
I keep thinking of one of my favorite aphorisms, from the Roman poet Ovid: “Be patient and tough; one day this pain will be useful to you.” None of us want to experience this lesson, but we can learn from it, if we will.
We can also find ways to combine these tips. For instance, I like to pace around the apartment while I talk to my parents in Kansas City or to my sister Elizabeth in Los Angeles (#2 and #6). Someone else might go through old photographs and make a photo album (#4 and #7). Perhaps you’ll start writing in your new journal every day at sunset, with a cup of tea and music playing in the background. (#7 and #9).
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