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Did the pandemic allow us a moment to evaluate our happiness?


People don’t normally think of the pandemic as having any good points. Job loss, increased cases in depression and anxiety, staying away from friends and family, having to cancel well-planned trips and weddings, and so on. A year that was supposed to be the perfect year of every holiday being on the weekend was ruined by a virus that stopped the world in its tracks. What good could come out of that? Well, believe it or not, the pandemic did provide a variety of ways to evaluate personal happiness during that horrible year.


Before 2020, people typically measured their worth in outward entities, like their abundant social life or how many materialistic things they possessed. Even job statuses defined self-worth. However, once those luxuries were swiftly taken away, people searched for new ways to fill that void of no longer being in the outside world. Humankind wasn’t built to be alone and isolated. People were made to be involved in the world and have fellowship with other people, even if it was just being in a store with complete strangers. The luxury of being around people we didn’t know and seeing full faces were lost treasures.


However, as rational human beings, we learned to adapt to our new daily lives of being confined to the walls of the home, and we searched inward for the smallest sense of normalcy. A study was made by The Thriving Human Science Center in Venray, Netherlands theorizing if the pandemic produced a sense of “mature gratitude.”[1] In some ways people did experience a newer sensation of gratitude, but they also learned to live without certain external delights and simply viewed them as great privileges in our society.


One of the best things that occurred during the pandemic was the outpour of gratitude towards those who were once viewed as the “lowest on the totem pole” in the working world. In the devastation of 2020, the phrase “essential worker” went from a low-profile term for people who had to work even when the government was closed for snow, to a synonym for “hero.”[2] The minimum wage class was now called the essential workers.[3] The garbage teams, the grocery store workers, the gas station attendants, the truck drivers, the delivery workers, the retail representatives, and so on became some of the biggest heroes during the lockdowns.[3] While many of the rest of the working class were still learning to adjust to the life at home, the unsung stars of the blue-collar workers were still giving the world a sense of routine, showing they were just as important as the CEO in the corporate food chain, if not more so. These hard-working heroes were just trying to survive and provide a way for society to carry on in the minutest form of routine, be it picked up garbage or groceries delivered to the house.


As the pandemic progressed and precautions were still in effect, we found ourselves unable to enjoy even the smallest things, like a nice meal at our favorite restaurant, going to the latest film at the theater, or even going to a show downtown. However, many turned these lost comforts around, decided to work on their personal health, and spent time outside walking and riding bikes, reading, or even catching up on sleep. Many, sadly, experienced the opposite with more drinking and terrible sleeping habits.[4] For a certain segment of people — namely, childless, white-collar workers — the pandemic’s disruption of everyday life provided something rare: the chance to remake themselves in ways they had always wanted but could never execute.[4] People soon found themselves the sleep they were lacking. They sought counseling now that they were no longer as busy or distracted as they once were. Some even quit old, toxic habits, as the very crutch they once held was no longer as readily available, so they no longer saw the need for it.[4] Lina Perl, a licensed clinical psychologist, stated the pandemic removed distractions that might have shielded them from things in their lives that were bigger issues than they had ever realized. “It also turns up the volume on the discomfort and the despair and the stress. I think a lot of people had marital problems or maybe mild problems with alcohol or maybe weren’t that happy in their job,” she says. “I think it forced people into a new relationship with self-care, basically, because they were suffering.”[4]


Even the world of entertainment and media was reevaluated. Participating in and viewing art makes us connect to a more universal human experience. Be it artmaking at home, public murals, watching and listening to plays and music, or new-found interests in culinary arts, art is an expression of what it means to be human.[5] More books were read, and a love for the arts was skyrocketing. Actors such as Sir Anthony Hopkins created new artistic content of him playing the piano for his cat while others, like Michael Sheen and David Tenant, produced a new hit comedy mini-series shot in their respective homes. Gary Oldman recited various forms of literature, and Dame Judi Dench starred in TikTok videos with her grandson. The world didn’t allow the pandemic to stop them from using their talents but rather learned to use them in new ways with the world of social media and streaming services. The world seemed to develop a new-found gratitude for those in the arts that hadn’t been there as much as before the pandemic. As an art therapist, Tammy Shella has seen how creativity can ease stress and help people process the heaviness that they’re dealing with. While your stick figures or crocheted toilet paper covers won’t win you any awards, creating them can help nurture your inner artist and help you find some peace.[6]


Homeschooling was another challenge for those who’d never experienced it. Another part of society was often mocked and seen as abnormal was now the sole option for parents and guardians around the world to continue their child’s education. Many soon discovered the struggles and tenacity homeschooling parents faced in the past and found a new appreciation and respect for those families. Forbes magazine states, the homeschooled families that were already used to the homeschool life didn’t struggle in the new educational realm nor the emotional aspects of homeschooling during the pandemic compared to those that hadn’t experiences it before.[7] Also, according to Forbes magazine, some new homeschooling parents even considered continuing homeschooling after the pandemic.[7]

Another level of gratitude grew for those with a religious faith. The study conducted by the Thriving Human Science Center in the Venray, Netherlands showed those possessing a religious faith possessed a better form of gratitude compared to those who did not believe in a higher being.[1] These forms of gratitude included gratitude to respective gods or higher powers, non-directed existential gratitude or spiritual gratitude that can be elicited by, for example, gratitude for ancestors or spirits, and cultural expressions, such as music or art, or an awareness of being part of something big. There are many definitions of spirituality and religiousness where spirituality is considered a personal experiential belief, such as belief in a higher power or having a sense of belonging with others or the universe. Religiousness includes these personal beliefs, but it also incorporates organizational or institutional beliefs and practices, such as church membership and attendance and commitment to the belief system of an organized religion.[1]


The study also stated in its theory, spiritual or religious people have a stronger tendency to experience gratitude than do less spiritual or religious individuals.[1] Findings on spirituality and gratitude showed that self-reported spirituality and spiritual behaviors, such as prayer and meditation, increased a sense of gratitude. Spirituality brings awareness to an individual’s feelings of gratitude. Giving thanks to a higher power is one of the most basic religious expressions and is one of the most common themes of people’s prayers and descriptions of their religious lives. Being religious might facilitate gratitude in two ways. First, it might amplify the perception of benefits during trying times. Second, it might transform negative experiences by adding spiritual or religious meaning to the event. Even in situations that are distressing, finding meaning in some way can strengthen someone’s sense of gratitude.[1]


Even though COVID-19 turned the world upside down, we, as humans, learned to adapt to any crisis. Humankind is not made to be fragile and feeble to the point where we cannot function. We possess the intelligence to take what we know and turn it around for good. We’ve been equipped with skills and talents that many of us explored that evolved into the founding of new businesses and proving to ourselves we are only miserable in a situation if we allow it. Cognitive happiness played the ultimate role in the pursuit of happiness.[8] We chose to change and adapt our fast-paced materialistic ways to enjoy the simple things in life. We developed a sense of gratitude in seeing other people, even those we didn’t know. Things like hugs and smiles were worth so much more than before. Friends and family were cherished like never before. We bonded with strangers through humor over the national crisis of a toilet paper shortage or the craze of the newest Netflix show. We still found ways to laugh and learn through the darkness of a global pandemic while discovering a new-found sense of gratitude in things we used to take advantage of.


References:

1. Jans-Beken, L. (1AD, January 1). A perspective on mature gratitude as a way of coping with covid-19. Frontiers.


2. McHale, G. (2021, February 23). LaborPress.


3. Thank you essential workers for your tireless work throughout the pandemic. The California Aggie. (n.d.).


4. Peyser, E. (2021, June 10). The people who transformed themselves during the pandemic. Intelligencer.


5. Why we need arts in times of crisis. Artwork Archive. (n.d.). https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/why-we-need-arts-in-times-of-crisis.


6. Fenneld. (2020, October 23). How art can help you cope with the pandemic. Cleveland Clinic.


7. McShane, M. (2021, March 9). Opinions on homeschooling have changed during the pandemic. Forbes.


8. Gutiérrez-Cobo, M. J., Megías-Robles, A., Gómez-Leal, R., Cabello, R., & Fernández-Berrocal, P. (2021, March 19). Is it possible to be happy during the COVID-19 lockdown? A longitudinal study of the role of emotional regulation strategies and pleasant activities in Happiness. International journal of environmental research and public health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8003758/.


 

Contributors:

Author: Emily Pau

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Rayven Hall


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