(Photo courtesy of Chloe @https://www.instagram.com/chloer._/)
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness (minus a slight emotional digression yesterday): what it means to be happy during this period of hardship and isolation during the covid-19 pandemic, how we can begin to redefine and reconstruct what it means in our own lives. There have been so many rapid changes recently that I found it important to focus on being present, on paying attention to the moment as a means of finding peace amidst the chaos and confusion.
I still think that reflection holds the key to being able to center ourselves. Right now things have slowed down, or stopped in some cases. For those of us who are privileged to be at home, with time on our hands and none of our normal routines and distractions in place, this pandemic situation offers the chance to look inward and think about what we value in our lives. But maybe it’s time, if we are ready, to look forward to the future.
A big part of happiness may be found in our ability to imagine the future–a new day, a next step, an event that we are looking forward to, a project to complete. The coronavirus pandemic is so difficult to deal with, so anxiety-ridden precisely because there is not necessarily an end date, as I’ve said many times before. There’s also no way to know for sure what the world will be like afterwards. As a recent article by a science fiction writer, Charles Yu, described, we’ve become so used to waking up and facing the same world every day, and to expect certain outcomes in our lives. The covid-19 crisis has led us to doubt that those “basic” rules still apply. There are so many things out of our control when we had led ourselves to believe that we were, for the most part, in control of our own lives and fates.
Recently some countries have been talking about easing lockdowns and restrictions as the number of infected has gone down. There seems to be a lot more discussion about opening economies back up. Here in Japan May 6th, after the Golden Week holidays, has been touted as a possible time for reopening some areas and even schools. So there may be hope of returning to some sort of normalcy soon.
I think it is naive, though, to assume that everything will go right back to what it was before, that we can really return to “normal”. This situation is traumatic, and trauma leaves scars both physical and mental. We have already entered a brave new world, and so all there is left to do is to act from that standpoint and not the one we were at a month or even a week ago.
Change is always hard to process and comes with its ruptures and aftershocks, even when the change is invited. Here it is clearly not, plus its onset was sharp and quick. We barely had time to perceive what was happening before everything snowballed into self-quarantine and lockdown. There is hope in the fact, though, that we have been here before. There have been plagues before, and other tectonic changes in human history, and humanity has come through them. So it might seem like the end of the world is here, but it might just be the beginning of a new one.
How might we begin to imagine a life afterwards? What will the economy be like? Democracy? Our social lives? Will we be able to go to movie theaters again or go out to clubs? Will online meetings and telework become the norm? But also–what rules can we rewrite? What positive changes can we accomplish now that everything is up in the air?
To return to the point of control and change, these things may seem like they are completely out control, and that can make anxious or depressed. But if we refocus and center ourselves, we can learn which aspects we can control and act upon. Perhaps the right question is not what our lives will be like but what do we want our lives to be like given what we now and what we’ve experienced. How much and what kind of social life really makes us happy? What kind of relationship to technology and privacy, do we really want? How can we act more humbly and with more gratitude now that we know that we rely so heavily on others?
There will be a lot of adjusting. My colleagues and I at Nazobako and Invite Japan are trying to imagine how things are going to work from now, and pushing ourselves to develop new methods for reaching people. Probably a lot more will happen digitally and online. Probably more companies will want to do team events over Zoom and other group chat applications rather than in person. We have to make arrangements for that, and adjust our thinking and plans. Today we tested out a team-building concept over Zoom. It was fun even though it certainly wasn’t the same as being with each other in person. It may not be what any of us wanted, but it aligns with what we want to achieve under the circumstances. And we are able to continue spreading happiness to others.
If there is anything this pandemic has taught me, it’s that happiness has no definite meaning or context. It can come out of anywhere, or not. There’s so much that goes into it, that forms it and molds it–including ourselves but also events and systems outside our control. But if we use happiness as a tool for reflection or growth, as a means to search for peace in the chaos and to understand what it is inside us that we truly love and want to inspire in each other, then I think we may end up making the future a little brighter for ourselves.
Please everyone have a good and hopefully restful weekend. This blog will continue again on Monday.
Stay safe, stay home, stay strong, and stay connected (and stay humble).
Lee and the staff of Nazobako/Invite Japan