The pandemic has taught us about a hidden benefit – the simple ways of incorporating joy into our daily life, writes Harsh Goenka
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy…” is that popular 1980s song by Bobby McFerrin. Whenever I would hear those lines my reaction would often be – “Easier said than done!” Yet today, through these gruelling 18 months of Covid disasters and hardship, I realise I have actually rediscovered happiness.
Just a few evenings ago my heart lifted at the sight of a beautiful rainbow appearing on the horizon. A brilliant shaft of light and colour surrounded by dark ominous clouds, and I found myself thinking this was nature smiling despite the encircling gloom. Nature is forever giving us messages of hope and joy. “Painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty,” says John Ruskin. But we were so consumed by the mad rush of our busy lives, by our obsession with work, money and all the goals we were chasing, that we didn’t have the bandwidth to notice anything.
The pandemic struck. And life as we had always known it and enjoyed came to a crushing halt. Many of the things we had built into our flurry of daily activities – movies, socialising, dining out, became out of bounds. It was unnatural compared to our usual routines, and frankly quite unnerving. Initially I was quite overwhelmed by the enormity of what the entire planet was facing and the repercussions it could have, with a million ‘what-if’s marching through my mind. And then, almost imperceptibly, my goal posts shifted.
Changes for the better
For all of us, the last year and a half has been an anxious time, lived under the shadow and dread of the virus, with the nagging uncertainty of it all. Despite this, something strange and beautiful happened. It was as if nature had commanded us to pause, to relook at our lives. We began to appreciate the simpler things in life, find pleasure in small achievements. We began connecting better with our families, appreciating them more. We enjoyed our togetherness and our bonds deepened. For the first time we seriously looked at our wellbeing both physical and spiritual, and many found the opportunity to pursue it seriously, giving us a sense of inner serenity and health. Regular exercise, meditation and learning, pursuing hobbies we never had time to acquire, gave us a great sense of fulfilment. We got an opportunity to examine our lives, and many of us realised how important it was to simplify them, declutter them from all the superfluous trappings we had gathered.
At the height of its fury, especially during the devastating second wave that hit us like a tsunami, not one family was left untouched. Loss, grief and panic impacted us all in some way or the other. It was then we discovered that happiness and contentment can be realised with the simplest of things, with the most basic of activities, with acts of caring and sharing. A year ago could one have imagined that helping someone find that elusive oxygen cylinder would be a source of immense joy? Or that helping someone procure a hospital bed to admit a critically ill patient would become a major highlight? Or just sending a box of food for a cpatient could make us feel good? As lives got saved, as near and dear ones recovered and returned home, as we reached out to people in need, these simple acts of helping, of giving, brought contentment and we experienced a deep sense of happiness.
It was the pandemic that brought home to me the understanding and the value of the Danish term ‘Hygge’. Pronounced ‘hoo-guh’, it means to comfort, or console, taking pleasure in the small everyday gentle things of life, in joining loved ones in a relaxed atmosphere, of giving someone a hug, of bettering the quality of life.
Things are getting better now, yet the stresses of the pandemic remain and a potential third wave still looms large. In such windows of recovery, negativity often creeps in through in all sorts of ways, and shedding it is not always easy. Even when we try to ward off negative thoughts they keep coming back. And thoughts have a direct bearing on our moods. Indulging in repetitious negative thinking is a sure-shot path to unhappiness. I have often found that it is smarter to acknowledge those difficult thoughts than suppress them. Acknowledging your anxieties is half the battle won! The second step is considering the worst-case situation so that you know how bad it can really get. Once you evaluate the most dire scenario, you often find that perhaps you were making a mountain out of a molehill. Most problems will drop away in this first step itself. For those that remain, by studying the gravity of the situation, you will be able to find solutions for them. We may reach into our past experiences and see how we dealt with such situations and how they were overcome. In either case, you are working towards resolving the situation and you will find that negativity will most definitely dissipate.
Gratitude and kindness
An important aspect of being happy is our self-talk. Despite all your efforts, if you still find yourself veering towards negativity, try cultivating a grateful attitude. This pandemic has taught me I have so much to be grateful for. There is one fundamental belief that works in favour of all those who have a positive attitude. And that is, accepting change, knowing ‘this too shall pass’ believing that everything happens for the ultimate good’. Another belief that holds me in good stead is ‘doing my best, and letting God take care of the rest’.
As seekers of happiness, one of the traps that we tend to fall into is retail therapy. We think that by buying something we want, we will find happiness. That is a fallacy. So often, once we acquire that object we were coveting we realise it just brought us only momentary happiness, and soon we are back to being discontented. In truth, what we enjoy are experiences. Having a conversation with someone, especially reaching out to people we have not been in touch for long, or helping someone in distress resolve a problem, can be truly rewarding to the soul.
Acts of kindness are the best recipe for happiness. It not only makes you happy, but seeing that smile on someone’s face spurs you on to continue to do the same thing over and over again. People in healthcare find great sustenance in the service they are rendering, and this motivates them to continue. They do not seek material rewards or returns and are happy helping people, healing people. A doctor told me the other day, what fills him with joy and keeps him striving to do more is so see the smile on his patients’ faces as they recover and are discharged. “This is the biggest reward I can ever get.”
An immense source of happiness is finding our purpose. And this pandemic, and our common tragic experiences, have revealed that our purpose is as much the simple everyday acts of nurturing each other, being thoughtful and considerate to others, as other so-called loftier goals. We live in a world where even talking to someone in need of emotional support can be a significant act of kindness. Perhaps you may be unsure if you are suited for providing such support. However, when we increase our network of support channels, we will find that there are many who need precisely the kind of support you can provide. So do not doubt yourself or your abilities. We can build in simple acts of kindness in our day-to-day activities, and make this a way of life. Ordinary things such as checking up on colleagues, running an errand for an older person, giving up a seat in a crowded space, offering to take a photo for a couple, sharing your umbrella, helping someone cross the road … you will find these thoughtful acts contributing substantially to your overall happiness.
Give and be happy
Giving is another very important root of happiness. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone.” Giving is an ancient practice in India tracing its origins to the Vedic tradition of Dana. It centres around cultivating generosity as a mindset and is done without expectation of anything in return. It is born out of compassion and empathy and, most importantly, love for humanity. When we give, we set off a chain of positive effects that benefits not only the direct recipient but also others around them, as well as the giver. In the modern world it is not only individuals but also businesses and foundations that have become part of the social support ecosystem. Companies are now going beyond the call of statutory limits to redefine their purpose, aligning it with the greater good of society and the communities around them. This helps create happier organisations. At RPG, we have a corporate philosophy that revolves around Happiness and all our policies are aligned towards this objective.
As the pandemic meanders through what we sincerely pray will be its last and final leg, there is renewed discussion about the post-pandemic new normal. Should we return to our workplaces, should we have conferences, should we go back to the traditional modes of holidaying, should we reduce eating out, should the typical Indian weddings be on those massive scales and so on. Whatever the norm that evolves, we should steer it around what makes us happier.
I leave you with this thought – happiness is a decision. A decision we all have to make. This pandemic has taught us that happiness is not a destination. It is the decision to appreciate and value all that we have in life every day – the little things that we often took for granted. The decision to appreciate the beauty of nature around us. To be grateful for all the loving people in our lives who help make our lives so comfortable, The decision to be kind and generous, not in terms of merely practicing charity, but the kindness and generosity that comes with the spirit of doing and giving without expectation. I hope you will make this decision!