My friends and I constantly ask ourselves: “What do I do with myself now? Where is my life heading? Can I truly be happy when the world feels like it’s coming to an end?’
Many existential questions like these are being raised at the moment regarding our meaning and purpose in the middle of this crazy situation.
Looking for happiness as a sprinkle over the anxiety you might be feeling from COVID-19’s inconvenient tenancy, then you are already losing. That is because happiness is an emotional state based on feelings that tend to last for a short period of time.
If you truly want to experience fulfilment in all its glory, look for meaning first. Why?
Lowri Douwthwaite, lecturer in Psychological Interventions at the University of Central Lancashire and author of several articles surrounding happiness said: “Greek philosophy teaches us that the happiest life or ‘The good life’ is about living a life of meaning and purpose (Eudaimonia). However, we can also live a life of pleasures – (Hedonia) this is where we seek to gratify our desires, through excitement, activity and pleasure-seeking. Although both can lead to happiness, theory suggests Eudaimonia is more long-lasting and better for a healthy society.”
Aristotle, the founder of Eudaimonia, (and my favourite philosopher) said in his book ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, “ One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”
To prove my point further, in the Tanya, a fundamental guide to Chabad philosophy and Hasidic mysticism, ‘nefesh habehamit’ or animal soul in English refers to one dimension of the Jewish soul that is associated with cravings, lust and passion for what the world has to offer. It is compared to wild animalistic instincts that are geared towards power, dominance and greed. In its complexity, what this is trying to say is that the appetite for materialism has no end unless changing it or uniting it with ‘nefesh ha’ elokit’ the divine soul, to seek a deeper more purposeful life.
I like to think of this as a mathematical equation. You keep adding and adding worldly pleasures like cars, money, clothes but never getting to the final result. We might have it all but even then, we still want bigger and better. These glimpses of happiness can easily be stripped away from us at any given moment.
American psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo explained: “ The deepest pleasures are derived from interpersonal love, warm relationships, giving, appreciation, and gratitude.”
My aunt who is a pedagogue and psychologist at a secondary school in Bucharest, Romania told me that whenever she has Zoom meetings with her students, they are all truly happy and grateful for their own health but also their families and friends.
She told me: “ Most of them have now found that they have more time on their hands to do what truly makes them happy such as bonding with loved ones, practicing musical instruments, painting and preparing for their baccalaureate without the stress of a fast- paced life.”
There is hope!
According to the Office for National Statistics, almost half of people living in the UK experienced high levels of anxiety since lockdown was announced.
The people surveyed were asked to rate anxiety levels where, 0 is “not at all anxious” and 10 being “completely anxious”. Between March 20th and March 30th, they reported levels of anxiety between 6 and 10.
Despite this however, research has shown that facing crisis as a global community can lead to psychological growth such as better emotional health in the long term, since everyone is sharing the same experience.
A study from New Zealand after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 2010, found that participants reported feeling a closer connection to others because they all had a role to play in helping each other. Also, they were better able to carry on with their lives after the earthquake.
This is directly linked to tragic optimism. A term first coined in 1984 by Viktor Frankl who was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and above all, holocaust survivor. What he meant by the term is simply choosing to be optimistic and accepting situations by looking at the bigger picture despite unfavourable circumstances.
During the three years in concentration camps, Viktor worked as a therapist helping inmates who were suicidal, to find meaning even in those inhumane conditions. One man he counselled, decided not to take his life so that one day he could see his child again.
Where does this leave us then in today’s turmoil?
There is no doubt that happiness now has different connotations to us than before. The beauty of slowing down has shown us what truly matters.
Being reminded that we are all mortal, many of us have learned to appreciate the gift of life, family, good health and freedom.
It’s a harsh reality that we’re all facing with COVID-19 but it’s all about how you respond to it.
If you truly want to be happy now and after the lockdown, consider looking within yourself to find what gives you purpose and value in life. Look at the opportunities these moments have created and define your own version of happiness.
You don’t have to do anything grant- starting small is key. A quote that I like by Theodore Roosevelt says “ Comparison is the thief of joy.” Simply choosing to help your vulnerable elderly neighbour with his groceries or donating £5 to the NHS, is enough.
Another thing you can do, is to start training your brain now to be happy. When you are regularly practicing the things that matter to you alongside gratitude, this will serve well in the long run and it will be much easier for you to accept situations and see the silver lining.
Remember. Happiness comes as a side effect when you look for what truly matters.