These are not easy days. We're stuck at home trying to make sense of a contagious virus that sounds like something invented by a Hollywood screenwriter.
And yet, there's so much to be grateful for. As quickly as our communities shut down, new avenues of happiness emerged, whether these took the form of Zoom baby showers, drive-by birthday parties, or an Instagram feed of Pinterest-perfect dinners.
So the fundamental question we're all facing is this: Is it okay to be happy right now—despite the pandemic death toll, the panic over PPE, the pile of bills to be paid, and the pressure facing healthcare providers, grocery workers, first responders, bus drivers, and all those truck drivers bringing food from coast to coast to make sure we're all fed and safe?
It may sound counterintuitive but experts say that seeing the good, despite the bad, is a sign that you've got a healthy and balanced approach to this current—and very challenging—situation.
"If we have to wait for all the conditions to be perfect in order to be happy, we're going to be waiting a long time, perhaps as long as we live," says Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Lancaster, CA. "Sometimes, we have to look for the best possible solution for a tough situation in order to move forward during a difficult time."
Even during hard times, it's common to feel two feelings at once.
"We can be gutted by the financial stress our friends, loved ones, and communities are experiencing and still feel grateful if we're doing okay," says Kristen King, a wellness facilitator in Denver, CO. "We can feel scared about what's coming next and still thoroughly enjoy binge watching comedies on Netflix. We can feel frustrated by the challenges of working from home and also be relieved we still have a job. We don't have to pick just one emotion."
In fact, the ability to feel multiple emotions and to feel them fully points to an awareness and emotional resilience that helps us navigate uncertain times.
"I encourage you to look for the joy, humor, and excitement among the sadness and chaos," King says. "It's okay to be scared but also hopeful. It's more than okay because the ability to see those bright points is what sustains us and helps us bring hope to others who may be struggling to find it for themselves."
If you're still feeling like it's tough to turn the switch to feeling more optimistic, it's important to remember that while you can't change what's going on around you, you can change how you react to it, says Julie Kaylin, a happiness coach and voice artist who is often called 'The voice of happiness.'
"You can live in fear and be panicky all the time or you can look at this as an opportunity to get closer to your family," she says. "In fact, this is also a perfect time for self-reflection and slowing down the pace of life."
There are reasons to tap into your happy self that will positively benefit your health, too.
"Positive moods can help boost our immune system," says Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University and the host of the critically acclaimed podcast, The Happiness Lab. "There's also evidence that people with more positive moods are less susceptible to respiratory infections. That means that making sure you experience moments of joy can be important for your physical health and your immune function, just like washing your hands and eating healthy."
There's another key thing to think about right now: Finding ways to be happy will sustain you for the long haul.
"It's true that a lot of folks are suffering, but we still get to control our own reactions to this crisis," Santos says. "We can choose to only be sad or to take those happy moments when we can."
In the end, Larsen says we should all try to do our best to become 'optimizing realists.'
"This sort of person acknowledges the reality of a situation but believes that the best outcome is possible," she says. "If you can look for the upside of a tough situation and not demand that all the circumstances are favorable, you have a better chance of experiencing less stress and worry during these difficult stretches of time."
Or, just think of those people throughout history who have found ways to make the best of even the worst of times.
"I always think of people like the Dalai Lama who is able to smile and laugh despite the atrocities that were done to him and his people in Tibet," Larsen says. "Or, I think of Nelson Mandela, who never lost his dignity or humanity in spite of being imprisoned unjustly for so many years. Right now is a great time to draw upon these figures for inspiration and examples of how to thrive in difficult situations."
Art By Alyssa Gray
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