Never has it been so stark as to how interlinked we all are. But fear not, a sense of togetherness is something we have been sorely missing when it comes to happiness. We will come through this through solidarity. Albeit with physical distance.
Yet, despite the obvious difficulty of being housebound, there is a lot we can do to keep ourselves and others reasonably happy. There might even be an opportunity for new undiscovered sources of happiness from the situation too. In this post I’m going to offer some insights I’ve built up during a career exploring and understanding happiness. Perhaps these thoughts might be of help to you and those you know in these unprecedented times.
Basically all these ideas boil down to ensuring that we are taking care of the aspects of our lives that are key sources of happiness. Aspects that decades of research have been shown to be the most crucial for experiencing lasting happiness. Fortunately, once we see what is essential for happiness then it is a case of applying those insights to the situation. These include the following (details for each one follow):
- Mental health:
- 1. Managing our anxieties
- 2. Having awareness that many people are struggling right now
- Establishing a routine and being mindful
- Nurturing our relationships with one another
- Keeping physically active
- Attitude and approach – purpose, honesty, and gratitude
- Togetherness in community
- Meet the core need and be willing to change how you meet it
Anxious provoking times
I’ve hardly been out of a house that isn’t even my own for over week now. I’ve been watching events unfold all over the world. Yes, this is actually happening. Throughout the entire world. There is little most of us can do about it except stay where we are to protect ourselves, and even more so to protect the wider global community. Full respect to those out there on the front-line.
I happened to be doing a pet sit for people who had gone on vacation just as things began to get really serious (though it has been serious for a long time but I admit that just hadn’t sunk in). Wherever we happen to find ourselves during this unprecedented situation the situation is uncertain.
How can I find happiness in this home? Any home? The important thing is that I feel safe where I am. I sometimes feel quite anxious, that’s natural, but I am doing my best to not get lost in that anxiety. I’m anxious prone and I can get easily overwhelmed. I don’t blame myself because our culture has long peddled anxiety. It comes at us through our screens and from others. I am not the only one. We all swim in it. It can be difficult to manage.
In this situation it is, of course, important to stay informed and be cautious. However, there is a limit to what we can and need to know. Try not to let yourself feast on the never-ending stream of information. Admittedly it is difficult not to. But, it is easy to seek information to calm ourselves, only for that new information (which sometimes isn’t true or is someone else’s fear) to provoke yet more anxiety.
When you notice things circling around in the mind over and over again then that’s definitely the time to switch off and tear yourself away. Do it much before then if you can and try not to be online too close to going to bed as the thoughts will swirl around all night. Remember they are just thoughts. Watch them, but don’t mistake yourself for the thoughts. Many of our fears will never come to pass. Have faith that when you are faced with the actual problem that you spend so much time worrying about that you will find a way through.
Get a routine into your day and be mindful
As soon as I get online my day immediately starts going in a different direction than I had intended. So I leave getting online to get updates and to connect with others until I’ve done what I really want to do with my day. For most people that might be doing the work they are supposed to be doing. Or attending to their children. Or whatever. This morning, for example, since I am on my own and have no commitments, I’ve set myself the intention of writing this post – it is an activity that feels purposeful to me (as I hope others will find it useful – see later) – and each day, since writing is my work, I make sure I write something.
But before even that I do some mindfulness mediation. No more than 30 minutes and not too serious – often the cat I’m looking after is sitting on my lap as I do it. Afterwards I make sure I drink a lot of water as I am thinking about what I want/need to do with the day. What must I do for my own self-care? Who might I need to connect in with or get some support from? Who might I need to check up on locally or internationally? Does anyone need help? Write a list if it helps.
Connect in, request support, reach out to others who may need help
When it comes to happiness it is our relationships with others that are the single most important factor. For a long time before this happened we had not been making much time for one another. Now we have an opportunity. But not only that, we also have a pressing need. Suddenly, social isolation is very real for many.
It may fill you with dread to be stuck on your own. Or maybe, in the face of being home with your family for an indefinite period of time, being alone would be preferable. Whatever it is, our relationships are a key source of happiness, or indeed unhappiness.
Find ways to communicate. I mean communicate beyond blame, judgement and reaction. Where we get in touch with deeper needs and feelings. Where we listen. We are all awash with emotions and they need an outlet. Particularly now. You might want to:
- Learn about non-violent communication. It is a way of communicating with friends and family that I’ve found useful over the years.
- Actively listen – when someone says something that brings up anger or some other difficult emotion in you try first pausing. Then reflect back what you think you heard the other person say. Did you hear right? Then give yourself space to react. Try to get others to tell you what they heard you say. Often we don’t hear the core of what is being said. Only our reaction.
- Use a talking stick that signifies that only the person holding it can speak. Give other people their space. Pass on the stick when complete.
If you are alone then reach out online. Generally, it is important to connect and get daily interactions into our lives. Now more than ever it is socially acceptable to request help. Start doing it soon and get into the habit. If you need something, then request it from another – shopping, a listening ear, even just saying what you need but can’t have.
People like to help and allowing them to do so can be a beautiful gift. Maybe you just need to vent and be listened to. If so let someone know that being listened to is all you need right now. There are some people who will be reluctant to ask for help. Check in with them. Reach out. Stay socially active, but just do so at a distance.
On Saturday night I went to Pub Zoom and spoke to friends I’ve not seen in more than 3 years. I’ve been hanging out at Café Skype too – talking a lot to older members of my family, and those stuck in other countries. I’ve also just come across an App called Houseparty. But try not to feed each others anxieties as to what is going on – the first rule of Pub Zoom is to not talk about the reason we’re stuck at home. These are coming back together times. Curiously, I’d go as far as saying my social life has picked up over the last week.
Mental health awareness
Next to relationships with respect to contributing to happiness is our mental health. This will be a particularly challenging time for those with pre-existing conditions. Some will be facing particularly challenging social and economic circumstances as a direct result of the pandemic. Have compassion. Offer help to those you know might be in particular distress.
Generally, there will be more strain in all of us. Be aware that mental health struggles are often not visible. This might mean that some people’s responses to this situation might be different to your own. Some will find solace in distracting behaviours, appear not to care for anyone else, or may become scarily authoritarian. We all have our ways of dealing with what is happening. Let’s avoid blaming and judging. It is an odd time. What looks like selfishness and irresponsibility is often deep fear, lack of awareness (that may have arisen for a whole host of reasons), or just copying what others are doing (still going out etc.). Do the best that you can with what you know. I can guarantee, though it may not look like it, that others are doing their best with where they are too.
Many of the things I am generally talking about in this post – managing anxieties, having a routine, doing purposeful activates, connecting with others – will help with mental health. Care for others in whatever shape or form can be valuable.
Stay physically active
To tell you the truth I am a bit lost on this one. Each morning I’ve woken up with a slight tickle in my throat. I put the potential panic of imagining what it could be aside, but still question whether I want to put my body under any undue stress by going for a run or cycle.
There are plenty of indoor workout videos, some tailored for this situation and live streamed, that millions will be participating in simultaneously. The 120 miles I rode 2 weeks ago to get to this housesit seems long ago now and I will need to get out and do something more solid. I want to start doing a bit of yoga too before my meditation. Maybe I will do one of these workout videos. I keep saying I’ll do something tomorrow, but end up worrying about that throat tickle, getting lost on the internet, and then it gets too cold and too late. I miss nature, but I am taking a great pleasure from seeing the birds on the next door neighbours bird-feeder. Before long it will be summer!!! We’ve just got to do what we can.
Purpose, honesty, and gratitude
If we want deep sustained happiness, then what we do needs to feel purposeful. Sometimes just getting into work and chatting to others and sharing a tea and a smile can be enough to make our lives feel purposeful day to day. But when that is not an option, just as many things aren’t at the moment, we need to find other ways. What brings me a great sense of purpose is when I help others or when I feel I am contributing to something beyond myself – I’m a good listener to peoples troubles, I write, and I can volunteer.
However, be aware that trying to help others if we are depleted ourselves might not be useful. Make sure you are OK. Be honest with yourself, and with others too. I know that on the days where I feel anxious then I can easily pass that anxiety onto other people when I speak to them. Sure, be anxious, but we need to know how to park that anxiety when listening to others. If we are not happy and healthy ourselves then we may be a burden on those we are trying to help. It turns out it is us who needs support. Ask for help and allow others to help you. Ask them to listen if that is what you need. If nothing else, that is purposeful in that it helps others meet their need for purpose.
But don’t worry about reaching out if you can’t. No one person is going to solve this. Do what you can. Holding it together just for yourself, and a few in your family is totally enough.
Take the time to notice everything you do have. The basics. A roof over our heads (for the most part of 3 years I’ve been on a bicycle so I’m appreciative), food in our cupboards (there is no evidence that there is a food shortage in the supply chain – shelves will fill up again), our health (hopefully – fingers crossed), people seeming to be a bit more helpful than usual, and those birds feeding of that bird-feeder.
Notice the acts of solidarity around us and rejoice in them, rather than fixate on our social media feeds highlighting what looks like selfish behaviour.
Financial uncertainty calls for community stability
No-one knows what is around the corner. Most of us have rents and mortgages to pay and who knows what will happen to our jobs. People have lost their jobs and I’ve read incidences of tenants being threatened with eviction. No-one can afford for these events to take the course they would have 6 months ago, where the individual would have been burdened with all the responsibility for that. With blame and judgement. We will deal with this collectively or not at all. I have read that homelessness has lessened owing to the risk. All of a sudden we are finding overnight solutions for social problems.
To highlight my precarious living situation particularly and what has opened up. The owners of the house I am staying should be returning from the USA next Sunday. Personally I have my doubts whether they will make it back, yet I’ve since unconditionally committed to looking after their pets until they return, whenever that is. After they return I have no idea where I’ll be. However, I’ve already had 3 people I didn’t know a week ago offer me a place should I need it. There are also plenty of people I would ask for help from and probably get it. People are good. Believe it and learn to see it. We can find stability in our communities. We can support one another. In ways that were very common once upon a time. I feel confident for the road ahead.
Meet core human needs, and be willing to change the strategy you normally use to meet the need
It is important to think about happiness in terms of meeting core human needs, rather than in terms of the things we think we need. Often we mix up strategies for meeting needs with the need itself. For example, we feel happy kicking a ball around with our mates, but that is because it meets our needs for physical movement, social connection, and play.
There are many things, such as possessions or circumstances, that we think we cannot do without. Yet, their importance to our happiness is only to the extent which they meet our core needs. If we think in terms of our core needs rather than the thing itself, then it is easier to see that we can substitute other things for what may have once upon a time seemed essential to our lives.
Meeting our core needs has been central to this blog post. From years of researching and exploring happiness, as well as finding myself in many different situations, I have understood that happiness comes down to meeting those core needs. No matter the situation, it is then a case of figuring out how to best meet those needs.
No situation is ever going to be perfect, yet if we watch our anxiety but don’t get consumed by it, get a routine and be mindful, connect with others meaningfully and co-supportively, take care of our mental and physical health as best we can, be purposeful, honest and grateful, and do what we can to build community and come together, then we have a good chance of finding a little more happiness than otherwise.
If this was useful to you feel free to share it – I wrote it this morning and I’m just trying to do my bit. Also any comments or feedback very welcome.