Happiness Part 2: Modes of Escapism and Finding Presence

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Photo by Alex Jackman on Unsplash

Yesterday’s post was the start of a series I wanted to write about finding happiness during these tough times. Not because we need to feel happy necessarily, but if we want to, I think this situation poses unique and interesting questions about what truly makes us happy and how to actively create it. I really think that we have taken happiness for granted, both as an abstract concept that we long for, and as a feeling or state of being that has practical meaning in our daily lives. 

So I want to expand on yesterday’s post about toxic positivity in order to talk about escapism today, because I think it is so relevant to the Covid-19 epidemic. Of course,, Nazobako is an escape game company. To a very large extent then, we deal in escapism and providing experiences in which people can “escape” their daily lives, if only for a little while. Our goal, however, is and has always been fundamentally about dealing with reality–really thinking, really working through problems, really working together. The “escape” is always just a pretext for letting our customers and clients dig deeper into themselves. 

What does escapism mean now? We can’t physically escape the situation that we are in. There are no flights to take, no countries that are pandemic-free. We can’t completely escape it mentally either, as we all know far too well by now. Nor can we change our settings or open a new window. We can’t escape to another platform or swipe left to run away.

An article that I read this morning caught my attention, because I was already thinking about similar themes for this post. It said, to put it bluntly, that we “can’t opt out” of this crisis. 

Before this pandemic, “escapism” was often used disparagingly. It was considered to be a form of not being able to grapple with the realities of world, or of seeking to ignore hard truths and wrestle with complexities. So we escaped into the world of social media, where everyone was always beautiful and we could construct our own echo chambers. We escaped into Youtube and Netflix, where algorithms took us down rabbit holes of entertainment. And we as a culture continually looked back nostalgically, summoning our childhoods to be drawn up and recreated, an escape into an idealized past.  

What connects the above is, I think, is a certain mind-numbness, or lack of consciousness towards the present moment–a “zoning out” (even when we are paying attention) sensation. We can contrast this with forms of escape that do keep us aware of the present moment even if they allow us to “lose track” of the time or ourselves, like writing, painting, running, meditating, learning languages, spending quality time with our friends–”zoning in”, one could say. 

Zoning out is not inherently worse. Certainly many of us need to zone out sometimes, to TV or Youtube, and it can be relaxing when we choose to do it. But I think there is a balance. And in this day and age of coronavirus, when it may not be possible (or ethical?) to completely zone out, and where our routines and schedules are being disrupted, there is an opportunity, if we choose to take it, to be more intentional about how we spend our time. We could choose to delve deeper into ourselves and our minds, learn more, and then use that knowledge to create and help others. This is the model of the “zones” of coronavirus that I referenced in one of my earlier posts.

People are obviously free to do what they like, and in a crisis no one can say for sure what we should do with our time. And we are lucky in some ways to be dealing with self-isolation now, when we have so much access to different forms of entertainment from our homes. 

We all deal with stress at differently as well. Personally, I am watching less TV in general (including Youtube) than before I started working from home. I enjoy the silence (most of the time–I do have my moments), and I can’t watch more than a few minutes of the news at a time. I do, however, check social media more. I am not completely uncomfortable with being alone (I am an only child, so I have some experience), but I have noticed that when I feel stressed out about the news or with what’s going on, I instinctively check social media, I guess to feel a sort of solace through community. A quick social media check that begins with good intentions can easily lead to an hour-long zone-out session, though.

Let’s try connect these ideas about escapism with the overarching theme of happiness in the time of Covid-19. Being happy, or trying to achieve a state of happiness, necessitates being in the present moment. In that case zoning-in presents us with a way in which to escape and yet remain grounded in the present moment. It in fact offers a way to lose ourselves in the moment. And while this might not be the most ideal moment in which to lose ourselves, I think it’s important that we try. 

I know I have said this over and over again (I need to repeat it to myself as well): we have to deal with the situation we are in, with the moment we are in. And if we do–if we use our energy to spend time talking with friends, reflecting, creating, growing–I think it is possible to find some happiness during this time, even if it’s only a flicker at times, and even though there are real hardships. Even more importantly though, I believe that if we are able to remain present now, all of us will be able to recognize what real happiness is when we finally get through this. 

As always, stay safe, stay home, stay strong, and stay connected.

With love,

Lee and the staff at Nazobako/Invite Japan

Note: I will not be posting anything tomorrow (04/15), but I will be back the next day, on Thursday (04/16). 

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