When mass COVID-19 vaccination began, many of us started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We celebrated our way out of the pandemic (at least in the US), and we started to let our guard down, just a bit.
Some of us never stopped being afraid. But now, with the Delta variant’s proliferation, endless new waves of illness, and hospitals once again being overfilled, many of us feel overwhelmed—perhaps even downright terrified—all over again.
At a time when the light at the end of the tunnel seems like it’s shrinking, what can we do to cope? Sometimes the only thing you can do is look for joy, whenever and wherever possible—especially in the little things.
It’s not weird to feel unhappy when everything seems so bad. Even little sparks of joy just bounce right off you.
It can help to look at unhappiness as a motivator, rather than as a curse. Negative emotions surrounding COVID-19 (fear, anger, guilt, anxiety) occur for a reason. Having negative feelings prompts us to make a change, to improve things or to adapt.
However, in the context of COVID-19, most of us have done all we can to adapt. Our stress may lead us to isolate, mask up, or check for symptoms before we go places. Our fears may make us reach out to support our loved ones or our communities. But after these precautionary measures, our emotions may remain understandably unchanged.
Sometimes after we’ve already responded to our negative emotions, they still stick around and wear us down. In these situations, consider that your body doesn’t always need action. A lack of rest and reflection time can also perpetuate bad feelings.
When your emotions continue to hurt, even after you’ve done what you can to make things better, remind yourself to appreciate your efforts. We often feel like we haven’t done enough, but some situations (like COVID-19) are truly out of our control.
When we don’t have power to change our situation, we can balance that lack of power by giving ourselves a break. For instance, just take a nap! Give your brain time to process what’s happening, passively, while your consciousness gets a time-out from reality.
Taking time to look for joy does not mean you no longer care about COVID-19. You can be worried about COVID-19 and find joy in the meantime. Remember that feeling good feelings do not cancel out your efforts to address your negative feelings.
We often feel like emotions should be mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we open ourselves up to thoughts, ideas, and feelings that may on the surface seem conflicting, we tend to be better able to process our multifaceted emotional experience.
When so much is going on, and we’re feeling overwhelmed to the max, we often feel like we don’t have the energy to go out and “have fun.” Returning COVID-19 restrictions also represent a roadblock.
Planning a big event or fun activity may not feel realistic right now. But what fun activities are still realistic? Your options may be limited to smaller events, but sometimes the most pleasure can come from the smallest things.
“Perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps.” – Sharon Draper
We often get so caught up in the big picture that we forget to enjoy the details. Perhaps surprisingly, cultivating joy doesn’t require you to change anything about your life. Finding joy starts with paying a little more attention to what’s already happening around and within you.
Below, find some suggestions on how to cultivate these small joys during each successive wave of the pandemic.
So much of our lives become so routine that we forget to really experience it. If you’ve heard of mindfulness, you might recognize the idea that we can often better enjoy life by simply being more aware of it.
How often after doing a load of laundry do you squeeze the pile of clean clothes and enjoy the warmth? How often do you put on music while you work and enjoy the way it makes you tap your feet? How often do you really taste food, not just eat it?
Some other little joyful things include:
To find the little things that are most likely to be meaningful to you, look back to what you loved when you were a kid. Children are experts at joy. Pay attention the next time you see a kid’s face burst into a huge grin over a piece of candy or a few words of praise. When you’re a kid, the little things are all you know—which makes it much easier to appreciate them.
And, if you’ve ever seen a kid go right from crying their eyes out to laughing with a friend in a matter of seconds, you might understand what is meant by allowing yourself to feel happy even if you also feel sad.
So, when you were a kid, what little things did you absolutely love? Did you like to jump in puddles? Spin around in circles until you were dizzy? Write silly stories and poems? Eat ice cream before dinner?
Though you’re not a kid anymore, you’re still the same person. Don’t deprive yourself of your earliest joys. The more you practice doing these small things—really experiencing these small joys—the easier it’ll get to cultivate joy in your daily life.
COVID-19 is a real threat, and it’s normal to feel anxious or scared about it. So protect yourself, check in with your loved ones, and talk to someone about your worries.
Just don’t forget to experience and feel other things, too.