While sitting in the garden of his home in Woolsthorpe Manor, Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree. Allegedly, it was at this very moment that he found the inspiration to formulate his law of gravity. You know this. What you may not know, however, is that in 1665, following an outbreak of the Great Plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors. This forced Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. Newton was confined to his home, where he would remain in isolation for quite some time. However, it was during this time that he was able to engage in quiet, self-reflection and creativity. He would then go on to change our understanding of the world forever.
Today, March 20th, is the International Day of Happiness. Many might ask how we can honor this day of happiness, while also being honest and real about what is happening in our world? Yes, the public health crises that surrounds us is confusing and unpredictable. Your spring plans have probably been undone and each and every one of us has been affected in some way. Some of us may have been affected through our own health, while others may have been affected through the health of their loved ones. Some of us are going through financial difficulties as the changes in our work or the ways in which we go about our daily lives have change drastically. And of course, the majority of us have been immersed in a sea of anxiety, panic, and fear. Coronavirus already shows very real and devastating consequences for our economy, our families, and our future.
Bringing out a silver lining in the dark times of the coronavirus outbreak is not easy, but focusing entirely on the negative aspects of the situation can be depressing and demoralizing. While things do not necessarily happen for the best, you can choose to make the best of things that happen. As one of the great thinkers of our generation, Jon Kabat-Zin aptly reminds us, “you cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
This year’s theme for International Day of Happiness is “Happier Together.” It’s time to focus on what we have in common, rather than what divides us. In fact, we have a common enemy – the coronavirus. This is one of those times in your personal life, and in our collective history, that you will always remember. Things have changed so drastically and quickly all throughout the world. Make no mistake, this moment in our time is unprecedented.
What can you do to reframe, find, and offer support to your communities? More importantly, what can you do in the time that you have to help out, to lend a hand, and to make you feel proud when looking back at these events in the future? Our physical isolation does not need to translate into intellectual and emotional isolation.
You can surf this wave with purpose, kindness, and reflection. I believe that by embracing each of these ideas, we can find a way to move past the coronavirus outbreak, so that we can continue to bring people together and spread happiness throughout all of our circles – even if we can’t be with one another.
Your International Day of Happiness Challenge
Coronavirus has forced many people and organizations to re-consider their meaning and purpose. Now more than ever, it strikes me that living a life with purpose is transformative. When people find a sense of purpose and begin to dream and chase positive goals, the benefits are limitless. While the Coronavirus pandemic affects the world, take the time to consider your sense of meaning and purpose. From there, determine the set of core values and strengths that can help you achieve it.
You might start by crowdsourcing how others derive a sense of meaning and purpose. Make a list of 10 people. Reach out by phone, email, or video and ask them the 10 most inspiring things they have done or seen in the last month or year. Not only can this exercise help you to reflect on your own purpose, but it can also help you connect with loved ones. Furthermore, it will help them reframe the current difficult situation with optimism and positivity. Research from the world’s longest longitudinal study on happiness from Harvard University has confirmed that our relationships are critical to our well-being. Remember, the health experts recommendations on social distancing refer only to physical distancing.
Stories of people fighting over the last roll of toilet paper or the various images that you might find on social media of empty grocery store shelves can paint a bleak picture of the world. However, there are also acts of kindness that have inspired thousands of others. A search on GoFundMe for “coronavirus” brings up more than 7,000 results. And you don’t need to send money to accomplish an act of kindness. For example, the “kindness postcard” was created by one womanwho offered to help others with their shopping, to send their mail, or to simply offer a friendly phone call. In positive psychology, the random acts of kindness intervention is well known to have a host of mental, emotional, and physical benefits.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, considered one of the co-founders of positive psychology, was the first to identify and research the concept of flow. Flow is described as those moments when you’re completely absorbed in a challenging, but doable task. Csikszentmihalyi developed the term “flow state” because many of the people he interviewed, from CEOs to athletes, described their optimal states of performance as instances when their work simply flowed out of them without much effort. He also found that the more often people experience “flow states” the happier they become, since high-engagement activities flood the body with positive hormones that elevate one’s sense of well-being.
Given the constant distractions that we all experience in day to day life, many of us live in a reactive state where achieving a “flow state” is nearly impossible. Finding the time for quiet reflection and mindful activities that put us in the zone is something that we often covet, but rarely attain.
Now is your opportunity to tackle that pile of books on your bedside table. Try out that new recipe, reflect on your goals and dreams, build a puzzle with your children, have a virtual coffee with friends and loved ones whom you may not be able to visit, listen to music, meditate, exercise – do anything.
Perhaps, similar to Isaac Newton, this time of forced solitude and reflection will inform the rest of your life.
I wish you a kind and purposeful International Day of Happiness.