Do we want to go back to what we had before the quarantine? Maybe we can preserve some of what we have now.
I am not in any way minimizing the tragedies the virus has brought.
But there are some things that are actually good about this whole shelter-in-place thing. And, no, I’m not trying to be Polyanna.
But I am heartened that the planet is proving more resilient than we are. We’re seeing reports of coyotes, bobcats and bears in swelling numbers returning to Yosemite. Of people actually being able to see the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles because smog is down. More than 82,000 people have died from the Coronavirus in China. That’s probably under-reported, considering the Chinese government’s lack of transparency. But one Stanford University scientist says that almost 50,000 to 75,000 people would have died just from pollution. And the World Health Organization says 7 million people die every year from causes attributed to air pollution.
And, I get that dead is dead, so whether you die from Coronavirus or air pollution probably doesn’t matter if you’re the one dying. But…is there no way we can retain the good from the quarantine, so that 7 million people DON’T die?
The return of the environment isn’t the only thing we can find that’s good in the shutdown.
We have found out who is really important. It’s the people along every link of the food supply chain, from the farmers to the pickers to the grocers and delivery people. It’s the people who keep us healthy, from the doctors and nurses to the pharmacists to the people cleaning up after sick people in hospitals. And it’s the people we love.
And, I include ourselves in that list of who’s important. Before this whole thing began, when was the last time you spent time with yourself without the benefit of distraction? No book, no television or streaming, no music? Just you, your thoughts, your monkey mind and your insecure emotions? What a shock to find that maybe you’ve gotten a little boring, so boring that you bore yourself!
All of this self-discovery makes it hard to be happy, doesn’t it? You’re not alone. A Kaiser Foundation survey finds that 45 percent of Americans say the Coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health. The whole country seems to be in a low-grade depression.
So, how to be happy these days?
I did some research. The first source said you could be happy, even during a quarantine. They break it down to three equations.
But some of them aren’t all that helpful in these times.
So, I went to another source.
A New York Times journalist goes all the way back to the Holocaust for inspiration, citing what Viktor Frankl calls “tragic optimism.” Frankl, a holocaust survivor himself, describes tragic optimism as “the ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its inescapable pain, loss and suffering.”
That tragic optimism wound up affecting how quickly people recovered from the shock of 9/11, whether or not they had lost someone, and it shows up in the difference between people who recover from a trauma and those who develop PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.
And, we have been traumatized, make no mistake about it. One licensed professional counselor, Jennifer Yaeger, has a widely-shared post on Facebook that talks about how this trauma affects us. We may become numb and shut down or we may become hyper-vigilant (scrubbing down groceries, for example). It’s hard to focus.
It’s time to be gentle on ourselves.
But it’s also time to look for meaning, while we have the time and space for this kind of reflection.
And, finding meaning, finding the good in this Coronavirus, is what is going to make us resilient. It’s what is going to make us bounce back when we do open back up.