What can really help people to regain happiness after COVID-19
The magic is in the connection
We all need to find ways to weave more happiness, joy and hope into our lives in uncertain times. In recent months, I personally have found that making even short one- to-one connections with people over the phone or in person at a safe distance gave me a huge lift. I craved community, even in small bites. I talked to a neighbor as she clipped herbs and put them in small brown bags to share. I laughed and cried with my grown kids many days about nothing but our dog. Even the sad talks gave me hope. My parents now have me on speed dial. Hearing the same stories told different ways, depending on who was doing the telling, well, I couldn’t help but smile. The magic is in the connection.
When I was at a loss for what to say to a friend feeling down, we’d talk about books. (During the pandemic, I leaned towards books that were less self-help and more help yourself and everyone around you.) Three short and share-able recommendations: Seth Godin’s blog, penned daily by favorite weird and happy guru. The Art of Possibility — short and brilliant with an upbeat yellow cover, and anything by award-winning children’s book author Kevin Henkes—to feel closer to a grandchild? Nothing like it. Listen to the videos while social distancing.
I also listened to audio books while walking the same loop around my neighborhood. The combination of exercise and nature worked brilliantly.
If you need scientific proof that there is happiness to be found and people are finding it, here’s an update on what people at crisis text lines, support groups and doctors are finding works well.
START A GRATITUDE OR MEDITATION PRACTICE—NO SCENTED CANDLES REQUIRED
If you’ve tried to keep a gratitude journal or bedtime ritual (two common suggestions) and it hasn’t stuck, move on and find a different form of gratitude practice. There are plenty of paths to happiness, even in a time of social distancing. One form of gratitude is volunteering—it’s literally gratitude in action. Whether you are skilled at fixing houses or marriages, there is someone who needs your help. A few places to search: Senior Job Banks, in a Facebook group related to your interest or a local Town Services page dedicated to announcing opportunities. You can also suggest that you are open to helping others on short term projects, such as reviewing a resume, on LinkedIn. Research by Richard Emmons of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, shows “doing” (as opposed to writing a check or liking something on social media) is one of four key ways to show gratitude. Of course, make sure to observe social distancing per your state’s regulations.
Half of the battle in finding happiness
lies in learning how
to stay in the present moment.
If helping others falls through, maybe a course or class on gratitude, meditation, mindfulness or yoga could be of help to you. The most popular class in the history of Yale University is called The Science of Well-Being which teaches you what happiness is as well as how to increase your happiness. Due to popular demand, the course is now being offered free to the public through coursera.org.
Half the battle in finding happiness lies in learning how to stay in the present moment. Meditation isn’t about focusing in, it’s about stepping back. Two popular apps that offer free meditation guides (some are even 2 minutes long) include Insight Timer and Headspace.
ASK FOR HELP EARLY, TALKING MORE OPENLY
Talking openly is truly a life changer and Americans are getting better at it. A recent survey by Crisis Text Line, How Is America Feeling, shows that post-coronavirus ‘lockdown’, there was a decrease in the number of daily Active Rescues (“when a text-er has a plan," means, timing to harm themselves or someone else and the help line cannot de-escalate the situation and calls 911). In the same survey, 72% said they mentioned something to a counselor that they’d never shared with anyone else—that’s up 10% from pre-pandemic. Death by suicide, already reaching high numbers before the pandemic, is expected to rise. One five-year study of people considered to be fairly low risk showed that 45% of patients who used a specific safety intervention protocol attempted suicide, “approximately halving the odds of suicidal behavior over six months,” researchers reported. The process, officially called the The Safety Planning Intervention (SPI) includes identifying support systems, coping strategies, warning signs and a list of people to contact in an emergency.
FIND EASIER—AND LESS EXPENSIVE—MEANS TO CARE
Americans are opening up to the idea of opening up about their feelings and how to get social and emotional support and as they do, they are finding out about tools and programs they never knew existed. One of those is peer support. Peers for Progress, defines peer support as ongoing support from a person with shared experiences, such as chronic illness, substance abuse or grieving the loss of a loved one. Find a course in this type of work at PeerSupport.org and find the science behind it at Peers for Progress.
For many, just the process of finding a coach or therapist can be mind-boggling. It shouldn’t be that way. “Today, a patient has more choices and ones that are easier to access. The help they get will also be more tailored to their needs, says Harry Ritter, M.D., founder of Alma, a business designed to help therapists and coaches run their businesses so they can spend more time helping patients—and lower the cost of care. Not being limited to a particular location alleviates the frustration of seeking help, which in turn makes finding happiness a lot quicker. In addition, finding a caregiver that looks like you or has a similar background is easier. Feeling understood is important when working on your mental well-being.
If stigma is stopping you from finding answers, try starting with a Google search. Seriously, it will point you towards resources and save you what might be a first, cringe-worthy conversation with your benefits department, your boss or a family member. To narrow the field, type the words ‘how to get help for’ plus your issue (loneliness, suicidal ideation, OCD, bullying, mental health, social anxiety...) and a national organization or hotline will appear. From there, you can narrow your search down to something in your area and your budget. (Employ common sense here: if something looks too good to be true or appears to be highly overrated, it probably is.)