The pandemic ending—and the resumption of all of our germy behaviors—is a change in circumstance, of course. So its resulting feelings of happiness will wane. But if you use this change in circumstance as an opportunity to kickstart a new activity, you might be able to give your happiness a longer tail. Plus, well-being often follows purposeful activity. In that same paper, Drs. Sheldon and Lyubomirsky write, “our data suggest that effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness.” Maybe it’s time to finally sign up for a 5K or take that ceramics class.
Establish new habits. The end of the pandemic might be the perfect time to establish fresh mental patterns. “Transitions are a way to reinvent yourself,” says Dr. Lyubomirsky. Read anything about habit formation and you’ll find that the evolution of habits follows the “cue/trigger → behaviors → reward/result” progression. Those cues can often be physical spaces. Maybe this is why you always found yourself gobbling handfuls of M&M’s post-lunch in the office but not at home. Well, in the case of something like the office (but also say the gym), it’s possible that you’ve been away for so long that triggers for previous patterns of behaviors have lost their power. Which gives you the chance to link those cues with new habits.
Be grateful.. I know. At this point, the chorus of people talking about gratitude has reached a level of annoyance previously attained only by people who meditate, run marathons, or eat vegan. But there’s a reason why: over and over, it’s shown to be extremely effective in improving your sense of subjective well-being.
“Psychological research has shown that translating thoughts into concrete language (i.e. words, whether oral or written) has advantages over just thinking the thoughts,” says Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, whose work has a particular focus on gratitude. “It makes them more real, more concrete, helps elaborate on them. It helps us not take benefits for granted. It shifts our consciousness to those gifts all around us that we ignore because our minds are chronically poised to notice the negative.”
But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to start a gratitude journal. Take it from Lyubomirsky, who says the theme of her book, The How of Happiness, is all about finding practices of happiness that fit your personality and feel good to you.
“I don’t count my blessings, I don’t keep a gratitude journal,” she says. “I think those are things that are incredibly hokey and trite—even though lots of people swear by them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice gratitude.”
Dr. Lyubomirsky suggests simply noting, verbally, anytime you’re in a social setting, how great it is that you’re able to be with people again—whether at work, or inside a restaurant. Is it a bit corny? Sure. But so is anything earnest, and the point here is to trick yourself into being aware of the novelty of the situation, instead of letting it just become normal again. Says Dr. Lyubomirsky: “That’s basically what appreciation is, it’s an awareness of gratitude.”
Don’t take life for granted. Dr. Emmons says that one of the reasons we struggle with feeling grateful is because “we reduce it to feeling good after something good happens. It’s contingent upon a success, victory, or benefit.” Emmons wants your gratitude to be proactive instead of reactive, unconditional rather than conditional. How? By affirming and recognizing things in our life that we’re taking for granted.
One technique called the “George Bailey Effect”—after the It’s A Wonderful Life protagonist, who is suicidal until a guardian angel shows him all the blessings in his life—involves considering the person, circumstances, and routine pleasures you’re overlooking. Ask yourself what it would be like if you didn’t have your partner, your job, or your health—or what it would be like if you had to go back to a full-scale lockdown?