What Lessons will you take from the Global Pandemic? (7 mins)
It struck me quite suddenly when I was watching the new “Croods” movie with my wife and children; this was a moment that I would remember with fondness for the rest of my life. Due to COVID restrictions, movie theatres were closed, and we watched the movie from our home. My wife, who deserves all the credit for the creation of most of my fond memories if I am being honest, decided that she was going to make this movie watching experience special for our children. In the end, the family watched the movie cuddled together on our bed with it being projected at a large size on our bedroom wall. My kids loved the fact that they got to enjoy treats and popcorn on our bed. I reflected on the fact that, had it not been for this global pandemic, this precious family memory may very well have never even occurred.
To be clear, I am not saying that the global pandemic has been a good thing. Millions of people around the world have had their lives completely upended by tragic events linked to this pandemic. What I am saying though, is that it is my choice to see this small moment with my family as a blessing; I could just as easily have been angry and frustrated that I did not get to enjoy this movie in the theatre. Psychologists have known this paradox in our thinking for some time. The field of positive psychology (which can be thought of as a branch from the tree of psychology) teaches that if we can change the lens through which we see the world, we can impact in a positive way, happiness and almost every other positive outcome measure one can think of (including lifespan). Said another way, life happens around us (some of it positive and some of it negative) and we exert extraordinarily little control over these events. It is therefore up to us to decide which lens we choose to see these events through. Same event (ex. watching a movie), extraordinarily different response (gratitude versus anger/resentment). I have been asking myself with increasing regularity: How can I change my own lens on something so negative?
I personally do not believe in fate, nor do I agree with the idea that everything happens for a reason. In my work as a psychologist, I have seen far too many terrible things happen to good people to believe that this could possibly be true. I do believe in cause and effect. I also believe that every day that we wake up is another opportunity to improve ourselves and our situation. In my humble opinion, this can only happen if we make it a priority to learn about ourselves and from the inevitable mistakes that we all make in life. The key, I believe, is to learn to see ourselves as a constant work in progress; to continually learn from our mistakes with the hope of avoiding similar situations when they arise in the future. What follows below is a couple of the lessons that I will try extremely hard to learn from as we continue to move through (and past) this global pandemic.
Lesson #1 – SLOW DOWN
It is quite easy to get caught up in the pace of life. As anyone with a young family can attest, there always seems to be something that you must do. Whether this involves shuttling children to school or sporting events, helping with homework, settling disputes, or engaging in any of the myriad of chores required to maintain a household, life is busy! Does it need to be this busy though? The pandemic forced us to slow down, and while this was difficult to adjust to initially, I have really enjoyed the change. I have had the opportunity to spend more time with my wife and children now, then I ever have before. To be sure, the options for entertainment have been limited, but his has served to open our minds to other activities that we formerly never considered. Case in point, the joy of spending time together walking through the woods. This activity costs no money and affords me the opportunity to connect with my family and nature in a way that has not been possible in many years. It is utterly amazing what a change of scenery can do to both our mood and outlook for the future.
I was guilty of trying to be everything to everyone; to be in lots of different places at once. Over time, this led to a deep feeling of exhaustion that sapped the enjoyment from living my life. The pandemic has shown me that life need not be lived at a frenetic race. I am going to try hard to remember this lesson when the pace of daily life resumes.
Lesson #2 – Material things matter a lot less
I would like to preface this section by noting that the basics in life required for survival (food, water, shelter etc.) matter a lot. I am mindful that many have struggled through the pandemic to afford even these necessities. Fortunately, I have not.
I have worked hard in my life to have accomplished the things that I have. I do not lead an extravagant existence, but certainly am guilty of wanting to accumulate nice things from time to time. The pandemic has caused a sharp re-focus to take place in this area of in my life. Suddenly the possessions that I thought were important to me, no longer really were. As an example, I am fortunate to drive what I consider to be a nice vehicle; suddenly I was working from home, with nowhere to drive too. Another example would be clothing. Working within a professional field, I would often spend money on expensive dress clothes in order to “look the part” and to impress others. Much of my work now happens via videoconferencing, and the people that I meet with do not care how I look. In fact, many have commented that it makes them feel easier during sessions to see me in my wardrobe of preference (usually jeans, a tee shirt and ball cap).
The lesson here for me, is that the accumulation of “stuff” comes at an enormous cost – my time. Time is the most precious resource that any of us have, it is also the only thing that none of us can ever truly get back. In a world where I am no longer required to maintain certain appearances (as is the case in my life over the past year), what am I choosing to spend my time on?
Lesson #3 – My Social connections matter A LOT
Human beings are social creatures. We have survived and thrived as a species because of our ability to form new social bonds and connections. As it turns out, we are biologically hardwired to do this. Dopamine and Oxytocin, two neurotransmitters that course through our brains when we engage others socially, make us feel good and help to strengthen social connections. Research has also shown us the disastrous effect of isolation and demonstrated that it is as harmful for human beings as smoking and obesity.
Those who know me personally, identify that I am a social person. I am fortunate to have a large, extended family that (pre-pandemic) I would meet with on a regular basis. After a year of not being able to access this support network in the same way, and spending much of my time in reflection, I would say that I am guilty of taking these connections for granted. This is not to say that I took the individuals for granted per se, but rather that I am guilty of assuming that I would be able to access this resource any time that I wanted. This pandemic has taught me that my social connections matter, and that it is quite possible that they matter more than most other things that I prioritize in my life. I am going to try awfully hard, post-pandemic, to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from social gatherings and to express my gratitude to those people when possible.
“Fear awakens us to the fact that an opportunity has arrived.”
I heard this quote recently and apologize because I cannot remember who to credit for saying it (but it certainly was not me). I really like this quote as a summation of my thoughts on this post. I do not believe that everything necessarily happens for a reason. I do believe that we will miss out on a fantastic opportunity to learn from this pandemic, if we do not spend the time in reflecting on what the experience has meant to us in our own lives. Perhaps, as this quote implies, we can channel our fear and use it to make significant, long-lasting positive change in our own lives. What lessons will you take from the global pandemic?
Thanks very much for reading this blog and I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to become part of our community, as well as to gain access to exclusive content and deals on products, consider subscribing to our email list below. Thank you for your time and have a great day.
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