We were all hoping to leave 2020 behind, but here we are with days that feel all too familiar. Only now it is winter, with colder days and less sunshine makes the whole experience more dreadful. No wonder we worry how we are going to pull through these lonely and cold days ahead.
Luckily there are things we can do that can reduce our suffering and increase our happiness and we can get through to warm spring months and beyond.
In challenging times we have a tendency to look inward and dwell on negative thoughts and daily struggles. Let’s be frank, sometimes there is just no way around it. Home schooling. Worrying about employment. Wondering how to get the work done. Or will I get that toilet roll.
The solution is to shift thoughts and actions outwards. Focusing attention on other people or other things may actually increase our satisfaction with life. This can be done in three ways:
- Enhancing connections with people
- Having a clear purpose,
- Be inspired
Connect with people
Maintaining relationships with people can boost happiness. According to psychologist, George Vaillant, the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.” (source). It is the good relationships with family, friends, and community that is making people happier (source). Furthermore, social connections can also improve our physical health, helping to combat everything from memory loss to fatal heart attacks (source).
Now socialising during lockdown is not the easiest thing and is mostly limited to those zoom calls that are far from ideal and there are other options. I have been reaching out to some college friends I lost touch with and talking more with my parents. But if family and friends are too much to handle one can also help others (within existing restrictions of course), such as donating to charity, or ordering groceries online for your elderly neighbour or just checking on how they are doing.
The trick is of course to do things that fit your personality and make sure you vary your activities, because our satisfaction levels off after some time if we do the same thing over and over again.
A sense of purpose
Nietzsche famously said if you find purpose in your suffering, you can tolerate all the pain that comes with it.
Having a sense of purpose comes in many forms from pursuing new innovations to raising the best kids in the world or taking up that language course or writing a novel or running 5k in a decent time (or running 5k at all).
Working with Matt on Cannasa and delivering clean-label and sustainable CBD drinks gives me strong motivation. But you do not have to run a business, even simple activities such as keeping track of something can give a sense of purpose. Just ask people who spent years in solitude. Participating in citizen science projects can offer that and it can be as simple as tracking rainfall or helping scientists look for gravitational waves, finding supernovas, help fight resistance against antibiotics, classifying wild animals caught on camera or predicting the spread of Covid-19.
Finding inspiration in the world around us can reduce stress and depression. One can practise gratitude, curiosity, or awe by simply identifying things you’re grateful for once or twice a week. The best way to do this is to write in detail about one particular thing you are grateful for. Focusing on people is more impactful than focusing on things. Also focusing on events that surprised you can also elicit stronger feelings of gratefulness.
You can also go an extra step and write a letter of gratitude to someone. Even if you do not send the letter, the effects of this activity can have a positive impact for months.
Currently I am finding some solace in adopting one of the stoic principles of looking at how small and trivial our problems are in the big scheme of things. At the end of the day we are just this tiny speck in the universe and this can put some issues in a better perspective. This can be really helpful when things are just not going that great.
In a nutshell – times are unprecedented and tough for everyone, but this year can represent a new beginning and by adopting simple interventions we can shift our energy and attention and improve our mental health.