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COVID-19, The Fragility Of Life, And Unconditional Happiness

COVID-19 is a chance for us to realise how fragile life is. But can we still be happy despite that?

We didn’t think it would happen to us. You never do, do you? It’s always someone else. Never really our problem. Not really, not truly. It just seems so distant. So irrelevant. Unimportant. 

But then it did happen. It really did. And it happened to all of us.

All of us. When’s the last time it was literally all of us?

We watched what happened in other parts of the world and didn’t think it would happen to us. We did start washing our hands a bit more and a bit better, but we didn’t think anything serious was going to happen.

And then more people fell ill. And then even more people fell ill. And then the shelves started to become empty and then we got told to work from home and then we watched the news and saw the number of cases kept rising every day and then maybe, maybe we thought something serious was happening.

Happening to us.

Now.

And then we were told to stay at home. But, like, actually stay at home. Not stay at home unless it became a bit uncomfortable and annoying and then you can go out if you want.

No. Stay at home. Please, stay at home. Please, sit there and take a moment and realise that this is indeed actually happening, right now, to us, and realise that you must stay at home so we can protect the NHS, so we can protect our superheroes. 

Well, actually, they’re more than superheroes. They’re better. They’re real heroes.

And then the cases and the deaths mounted up and it began to sink in more and more that this was a real thing and that it was really happening and that it was a real thing that was really happening to us.

And for most of us, our minds went into overdrive.

How long is this gonna last? I’m already bored working from home. What if I lose my job? What if I get the virus? What if someone I love gets it and they get really ill, will I be able to handle it? I’m really worried. I feel anxious. I don’t want this. I want this to be over. Will we ever recover from this? This sucks. This is unfair. I wish things were different. When will things go back to normal?

Well, hopefully they’ll never go back to normal. If they do, then we’ve learned nothing and that means this was all for nothing. And what a waste that would be.

I know some people are sick of this and that there are already memes about it, but this really is an unprecedented time. Technically, every single day we’re alive is unprecedented. But if you ask anyone when they last remember a time that was similar to this? Well, most people won’t remember any time like this because we weren’t even close to being alive for World War 2. And even then, the whole world wasn’t involved. Lots of people were involved in World War 2, sure. With COVID-19, almost everyone is.

There was a big bang over 13 billion years ago and then the earth formed over 4 billion years ago and then life somehow came to be about 3 and a half billion years ago and we’re the only known planet to harbour any kind of life whatsoever in a universe that’s well over 99% empty space but also filled with at least 200 billion galaxies.

The fact we’re even here is laughable. Ridiculous. It rounds to impossible.

But the fact remains that we are indeed here.

And sometimes we’re here, the result of billions of years of evolution, sitting on a rock that’s currently travelling at about 67,000 miles per hour in the middle of nowhere, and we’re absolutely consumed with how our hair doesn’t look quite right. And we’re worried that a person we quite like is having a conversation with another person that maybe they quite like and not us. And we get annoyed that someone is walking ever so slightly slower than we’d like and we tut and we say something under our breath and we give them a look as we walk past, a look as if we know better and they should know better and they should just move out our way.

People are dying. A lot of people. Not just people with “underlying health conditions,” either. Kids. Doctors. Nurses. We’re at about 900 per day now and apparently we’re pretty much at the peak.

I don’t know about you, but – rightly or wrongly – I’ve kind of disassociated from the numbers. I’ve been keeping up with how many people are dying each day, but it just feels so nonchalant. Like, “how many people died today? Oh, 700. Man. Ok.” And then just moving on with my life.

700 people.

People’s friends. Their grandmas. Their grandfathers. Their mums. Their dads. Their kids. The same NHS workers that are fighting for our right to live day in and day out.

Dying. Dead. Gone forever.

I’m saying this because I don’t want us to lose sight of what’s happening here. It’s hard to think about it unless it’s happened to someone you know or love, but that doesn’t excuse us from thinking about it. We can’t just dismiss it; that wouldn’t be fair. The right thing to do is to take moments to think about the people who’ve died and the people closest to them and feel for them.

Don’t just think or say it; feel it in your mind and in your heart and understand what’s going on here. If you’ve got tears in your eyes, you’re doing it properly.

Another right thing to do is to take something from this whole situation. Not only from the people who’ve died and their loved ones, but from the fact that the most basic things of all have been taken from all of us: to go outside whenever we want, to meet up with our friends, to see the ones we love most.

My god. It’s all so fragile, isn’t it? Hopelessly fragile, maybe.

So what does that mean? Does that mean it’s all pointless? That we just shouldn’t even bother trying?

No. It means the opposite.

It means we have to stop taking for granted the most basic of things, like going outside whenever we want and meeting up with our friends and visiting the ones we love the most. It means we have to stop worrying about what other people think of how our hair looks, or being terrified that the person we like is talking to someone else and not us, or getting angry at that person who’s walking a bit slower than we’d like them to be.

It means that the next time we think of cancelling on our friends because cancelling is so easy and convenient, we don’t; we make the effort to see them because we love them and they love us and we’ll have fun together and we’ll laugh and we’ll confide in them and we’ll reminisce and wonder where the time’s gone.

It means the next time we get frustrated with our parents’ behaviour or them telling us a story we’ve already heard them tell, we just let that frustration go and instead we look at them and we smile and we relish in their company because who knows when they’ll be taken from us?

It means we should take care of ourselves. Our minds and our bodies. Because we feel like crap – mentally and physically – when we don’t, and we feel like we’re doing the right thing when we do. Because when we don’t, we’re more irritable, anxious, closed, worse to the people around us. Because when we do, we’re friendlier, kinder, energised, happy, stronger, more courageous.

It means we should find our balance. Working all the time for literally every single second of the day would be detrimental; never working ever no matter what would be just as detrimental. Usually, most of us veer towards the former. Now, we’ve been forced to explore the latter. Somewhere in between is the balance we’re looking for, and we’ve been given the time to find it.

It means we should strive for unconditional happiness.

If you don’t know about Viktor Frankl, he was a psychologist and holocaust survivor. He endured Auschwitz, as well as three other concentration camps. In other words, he’s experienced the worst of the worst. Being in a concentration camp is no doubt one of the most horrific things that could ever happen to a human being. To read what he wrote about it is harrowing, to say the least.

Towards the end of the book, he talks about there being some people in this concentration camp, this hell on earth, encouraging others to keep the tiniest bit of hope alive as well as giving other people their rations of food.

Just think about that. Think about how hungry they must’ve been, how weak, how scared, how desperately they probably just wanted to give up, how easy it would’ve been to forsake everyone else and drop into oblivion. And yet, in those moments, the hardest moments they’ve probably ever faced, they chose to help someone else instead of themselves.

It was after he told us those stories that Frankl said:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

This is what we’re being tested on here. Sure, we’re not in concentration camps, but we’ve had plenty taken from us. All of us have had plenty taken from us. And maybe it’s not fair and maybe it’s not what you want and maybe it’s making you annoyed and frustrated and sad and angry and just feeling like crap day after day after day. Which brings me to unconditional happiness.

It really just comes down to one question: do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy?

When life is going well, it’s easy. When it’s not – like, for example, when we’re in lockdown because of a global pandemic – it’s not so easy. It seems impossible.

But let me ask you: what’s the alternative? What other choice would you rather make? Unconditional misery?

Unconditional happiness is the highest (and hardest) technique there is. COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges our species has ever faced, and it’s bringing to light the fragility of life so the whole world can see.

We shouldn’t strive for unconditional happiness despite the fragility of life. We should strive for unconditional happiness because of the fragility of life.

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