By Maullika Sharma, Director Global Clinical Infrastructure
In the current environment of doom, gloom, and uncertainty, does happiness stand a chance? Can we possibly be happy at a time like this? Or better still, how can we go about finding happiness during a pandemic? Can we possibly learn to be happy right now, despite all the loss, anticipatory grief, anxiety, unpredictability, fear, and frustration that’s going around?
We can. We can because we can learn to make ourselves happy. And we can learn because happiness is not the result of the external environment, but rather the result of our own internal environment. Happiness is a choice. Unhappiness is a habit, and we can make the choice to break that habit every minute of the day in what we do and how we think.
There are several myths surrounding happiness which make us believe that the next promotion, the next salary hike, the next big car, the next exciting vacation, the perfect romantic relationship, or winning the lottery will make us happy. Or that some people are just born happier than others. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychology researcher, 50 percent of our happiness level is determined by genetic factors, only 10 percent is determined by life’s circumstances, and a whopping 40 percent is what we have complete control over. This is good news!
So, what we do with this 40 percent can be a game changer for our happiness, which Lyubomirsky defines as the experience of joy, contentment, or positive wellbeing, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.
We create our own unhappiness by the way we think about our life and our world. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.” The secret to happiness and fulfilment does not lie in the things we have, but in the way we think about things. Becoming aware of our own thoughts, understanding their dysfunctionality in our lives, and replacing them with happier thoughts holds the key. So, what are some of the possible shifts in thinking that we need to bring about?
8 steps to finding happiness during a pandemic
1. Being grateful and focusing on positivity.
Bring into focus what we have and what is good rather than what we don’t have and what is not good. It is surprising how what we focus on takes on a life of its own. So, we can maintain a gratitude journal, count our blessings, express sincere thanks, and learn to recognize and acknowledge the positives that come out from every challenge we faced in the past.
2. Letting go of negativity.
Forgiving those who have hurt us in the past allows us to move on with our lives, untethered and free. Embracing failure and learning from it allows us to grow towards our potential and opens us up to the possibility of success in the future. Let go of the need to please others. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and let go of the need for perfectionism and control. Remember that there will always be things we cannot control. In fact, the only things that we can control are our thoughts, our behaviors, how we interpret things that are happening outside of us, and how much we allow them to affect us.
3. Remembering that this too shall pass.
Expect everything to eventually come to an end and give way to something different. Nothing is permanent and lasts forever —not the ups, and not the downs. If we are on a high, knowing that the high will end keeps us grounded. If we are on a low, knowing that the low will eventually end keeps us hopeful.
4. Taking care of ourselves.
Exercise, nutrition, and sleep help take care of our body, which is extremely important. But taking care of our spirit is also important to remember. Practicing non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of the people we are; smiling, laughing, and having fun; cutting out the comparisons; simplifying our wants and decluttering our space; reconnecting with nature; listening to music; visualizing happiness; learning something new, taking a class, being creative, or pursuing a hobby; meditating, journeying inwards with honesty; and discovering new meaning in and about ourselves and the world, all help nourish and nurture our spirit.
5. Living in the moment.
The past is over; there is nothing we can do to change it. The future isn’t here yet, and we can never say with certainty what it holds. So, can we just savor the present because that is all we have right now? Can we enjoy the lunch we are fortunate to have without panicking about the meeting after? Can we enjoy the smooth flow of warm water over our bodies while in the bath instead of ruminating over the argument with the neighbor last week? Can we enjoy the game of Monopoly with our child instead of checking our email while at it? Can we stop and smell the roses and listen to the birds?
6. Nurturing human connections.
The current pandemic has thrown up several challenges for meeting people; however, human connections can still be sustained by reaching out in many ways. Physical contact and closeness are not the only way. We are blessed with technology that has allowed us to be able to connect freely. Are we using the technology to connect by reaching out, or are we using it to isolate further by staying in our cocoon and binge-watching shows? That is a choice we make. No man is an island. Everyone needs a community; everyone needs to feel the warmth and love of connection.
7. Making our life meaningful to others.
Shift the focus away from ourselves. Are we able to give happiness to others? There are so many people in distress right now for different reasons. Can we volunteer our time and resources to bring them some relief or joy or even just a smile? Can we look for opportunities to practice kindness every day?
8. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
There is a common perception that we need to deal with our life’s struggles and challenges on our own. If we don’t, we will be perceived to be weak. However, asking for help is one of the most difficult things to do and requires immense courage. So, if it is indeed that difficult, then being able to do it has to be a sign of great strength.
At first glance, this pursuit of happiness seems like a tall order and a lofty goal. But it really isn’t. We need to break it down into smaller goals that we can work on, maybe one at a time. Achieve them, reward ourselves for achieving them, remember to feel happy about achieving them, and then move on to the next. And in that journey towards making happiness a choice, if we find pebbles or boulders blocking our path, remember that we can always reach out for help.