Finding happiness during a pandemic
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash
Last week I wrote a post Can You be Happy During a Pandemic? I’m going to try a different spin on it here because I think it is so important.
Maybe happiness isn’t exactly the right word. Perhaps I should say mindfulness or being fully present. But for me mindfulness creates happiness.
The ability to be calm and fully present in the face of a difficult situation means several things:
- That you enjoy the parts that are enjoyable
- That you accept the unpleasant or difficult parts of experience as part of the whole
- That you are able to be fully present in the face of reality, neither running nor hiding but facing it head on
One of my favorite fictional heroes who has this capability is Jack Reacher. The author of the series, Lee Child, has given Jack this ability to focus intently on the problem at hand, to avoid worrying unnecessarily and to persistently, sometimes to my bewilderment, enjoy the parts of the experience that he can enjoy.
Suppose he’s arrested for no good reason and sitting on the floor of a cell waiting for someone to tell him what’s going on. Is he crying? Banging on the bars or screaming? Ranting about how ludicrous and unfair it is? No.
He reads the newspaper. If there’s no newspaper he runs a favorite blues tune through his head and enjoys every minute of it. When it’s time for action he’s looked at all the options and planned out what has the best chance of success and dives into it headlong.
He always has time to enjoy his coffee or an interesting looking woman. He excels at being present. Now, of course Jack is fiction. But you and I need to do it too.
Maintaining distance from people, sanitizing the right things at the right time, spending our money or time in the wisest way possible all require calm and focus.
Right now we need to take care in many areas of our life. I was reading a story by a woman who was nursing her husband through the coronavirus while trying to protect herself and her children from infection. Her routine of feeding and cooking and nursing and washing and sanitizing and re-sanitizing was dizzying.
She had a carefully thought out plan and was making it work so far. I applaud her. It is often when we are doing something really difficult, even life-threatening that our ability to be present and focus on the task at hand shines. This lady was shining.
There are thousands of evidence based studies now supporting the benefits of mindfulness for our health. It’s been shown to be effective for improving rates of recovery from coronary events, preventing deaths from cancer, decreasing anxiety and depression, for instance. Meditation, yoga, prayer, mindfulness and similar practices help to calm our central nervous system, allow us better rest, and support our immune response.
Mindfulness does not ask us to like the coronavirus but to accept that it’s already here and not to waste too much time fretting about that. We can take certain actions, plan as best we can, then deal with one moment at a time.
Is there something you can do to help your neighbor? Then volunteer to do it.
Can you take actions to keep your family safe and comfortable during the quarantine? Then take those actions.
Do you need to take care of someone who is sick? Are you sick? Take care of the immediate reality without fretting about why it’s happening.
In this time of pandemic, with our country floundering, we can’t know how this will all end.
It may be important that you decide who you want to be sure to call, how you want to arrange your days or spend your resources.
This may be your chance to get to know your child better, to remember how to play dolls or tell stories about your childhood.
Or call an older relative and check in. Reconnect with an old friend.
Did you always want to see the Metropolitan Opera? They’re airing past shows now. Or see the Louvre? They’re giving virtual tours.
Get up early so you can see the sunrise. Linger over the early daffodils or the birds chasing each other in the nearby trees. Smell the roses.
Pay attention: life is throwing lessons in our faces right now. What do we need to remember ? Maybe some things don’t seem as important as they did last year. (For me that’s new clothes, books, fancy cooking tools and ingredients) Other things may take on a new importance (healthcare, toilet paper, an administration with an intelligent plan for disasters)
- Set a small goal 5 or 10 minutes of meditation every day
- Pick two things that you usually do every day and practice being mindful each time you do them (I use washing the dishes and showering).
- If you catch yourself worrying turn your attention to your breathing. Try to follow the next few breaths, noticing what the air feels like going in and coming out. Don’t try to change anything at first. Just pay attention to whatever you notice for a few minutes
- Remind yourself that worries are just thoughts working overtime. Don’t let them take over your life.
- Look for little pleasures to see, smell, taste, hear and touch. Try to stop yourself in the middle of routine tasks and notice something in a different way. Pause and really and hear what your child is saying. Pet the obnoxious cat.
It is critical that we mind our thoughts right now: cast aside the dangerous despair, forgo the furtive sense of futility, rein in the ramblings of the mind. Because these things can bring you down as surely as the coronavirus.
Photo by Karl Frederickson on Unsplash