This Article First Appeared in Happify
March seems ages ago. And the New Year feels like it never happened. What a whirlwind we’ve been living through! Just a few weeks back, we were rushing to stock our pantries and freezers, panicking over every cough and congestion, and desperately trying to figure out the whole work-from-home conundrum.
That initial frenzy seems to have given way to a weariness. A well-stocked kitchen is no longer the highlight of my day. I’ve become tired of Zoom calls—they lack the connection of human touch and shared experiences. And working from home is a nightmare, regardless of how well you structure it.
More and more, we’re realizing how little control we actually have, and experiencing a whole different set of emotions—more subtle, more elusive, and yet, ever-present. There’s sadness, there’s listlessness; and, more and more, there’s a form of anxiety that’s best likened to existential dread. My mother shared that she’s unable to sleep through the night. “I’m not stressed about anything in particular,” she said. “I just feel uneasy.” A client asked what she could do to get her sense of joy and optimism back. “I used to love my work. Now, I just do it.”
What are we to do with these emotions that don’t carry the same urgency as the earlier ones? I was thinking about this as I watched the sun rise from behind the downtown skyline. It felt reassuring to know that some things have stayed the same even amid the monumental change we’re living through—change that normally takes decades or centuries.
In just a few weeks, we’ve been snatched away from the story of our lives we’d been crafting, as we wove the past, present, and future together into a coherent whole. Now, the past feels so distant, it’s like we never lived it. And the future is hard to see amid the uncertainty and fears. Is it any wonder we’re feeling lost and confused?
We can find our way back in by connecting to the present moment. It’s the only thing that’s real, certain, and in our control. How we live it will become the story of our past, the fabric for our future, and the ground we’re struggling to find. It will return us to the sense of self that’s gone missing through the crisis. And, hopefully, it will be a far more authentic self.
Depending on what you’re experiencing, here are a few things you can try to do to tap into the riches that your life embodies, and to live with joy and meaningful presence.
Sad? Ask Yourself: “What Can I Gain?”
Sadness is about losing something we value, and these days, loss is all around us. Some of us have lost close friends and family. And almost all of us are experiencing the loss of the life we loved. Last night, my daughter lay on my bed and cried miserably: “I can’t do this, Mama. I just want to go back to my dorm. I want to go back to the life I had.” A part of me wanted to break down and cry with her. But here’s the paradoxical reality of life: Every loss is accompanied by gain; and, within every crisis, there are opportunities for growth. This crisis has disrupted the status quo that was harming our world in so many ways. Here’s our chance to create a more equal and equitable one. Similarly, there may have been habits and fears you’d been lugging along for way too long. Maybe you need to let go of control, work on a relationship, or pivot your business to a more profitable direction. Now’s your time!
Listless? Ask Yourself: “What Do I Long to Do?”
I remember the long and boring summers of childhood. There was nothing to do, there were very few distractions, and adults weren’t in the business of entertaining us. And yet, weren’t those the most creative days of our lives? These days, with everything closed, it’s natural for some of us to feel bored. But it’s also an opportunity to tap into what the wonderful writer Mary Oliver called “the creative self.” It’s the part of us that’s connected with our unique gifts, whether they’re talents, passions, or a way of relating to the world. It’s the part of us that feels called to make a difference, and to contribute to the needs and causes we feel strongly about. Spend some time with this part of yourself and start engaging with it. Because life will “reopen”—sooner or later—and unless you’ve done your inner work, you’ll likely go back to doing the things you’ve always done, even if they leave half of you at the door. So, begin now; it’s so much easier to continue something you’ve already started doing.
Anxious? Ask Yourself: “What Am I Grateful For?”
It’s easy to be grateful when we get what we want. But this feeling rarely leads to a heartfelt desire to show our appreciation, because our focus is often inward, on our own happiness. There’s another kind of gratitude that’s generative, and that leads to nurturing behaviors. That’s the gratitude we have when we shift our focus from what we don’t have to the things we do have but tend to take for granted. This gratitude shifts us from an egocentric sense of entitlement to an eco-centric one where we become aware of the fact that the world looks out for us in invisible ways. And this makes us want to nurture the things we’ve been given, the people in our lives, the work we’re blessed to do, or that which we are capable of doing. At a time when most of us are limited in our ability to get all we want, gratitude is the best antidote to the resulting anxiety. If you’re grateful for your health, how will you take care of it? If you’re grateful for your children, even though they keep getting on your nerves, spend some time connecting to their inner world.
The reality is that as human beings, we never had control. It was an illusion we’d managed to keep alive in a world that rewarded us for adhering to that belief. Now that we’ve been ripped away from this illusion like a piece of fabric from a quilt, let’s come back to the present moment. Let’s gets back to what’s real, what’s energizing, and what’s possible, so we can create a far more sustainable world.