Happiness during a pandemic

Much has been done to research the concept of happiness, how we measure it and how we improve it in recent years – both from a personal wellbeing perspective and also by governments looking to increase productivity and generate growth.

You can take courses in happiness, play games* to help scientists understand more about it and there’s even a Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen headed by a chap called Meik Wiking.

People have different views on this, but the Happiness Research Institute have three broad categories which they believe influence our happiness levels…

  • biology – factors we can’t change
  • policies – which can be changed over time
  • behaviour – which we can change today

And within this they look into the complex interactions between factors like our relationships, income, employment status, health, genetics, age, sense of purpose, time, communities, consumption and much more.

With Covid-19 complicating life and typically increasing anxiety levels, there’s lots that’s not within our control at the moment. We remain in charge of our behaviour though and owe it to ourselves to find opportunities for happiness, however small.

Here are Meik’s 6 top tips for being happier during the winter lockdown:

  1. Lose yourself in a good book: as well as being able to transport you to a different time and place, reading has also been found to decrease stress…by potentially as much as 68% after only six minutes of reading according to one study by the University of Sussex.
  2. Actively seek out new sensations: many of our happy memories come from unique experiences and the first time we do something positive. So whilst lockdown makes having new experiences challenging you can still get creative and turn this unique experience into some positive memories. Even if it’s just by trying new smells, tastes, sights or sounds.
  3. Notice and name the happy moments: whether that be by simply pointing and shouting “joy” when happy moments occur, by noting them down (perhaps to reflect back on at a later date) or by practicing gratitude more formally there’s something very special about being in the moment and really embracing the positives.
  4. Practice Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga – a Danish word for finding pleasure in everyday experiences): many books have been written on the subject if you’re interested in reading more, but think “the perfect night in” in the current climate. Consider lighting candles, getting cosy in warm blankets, slow mindful meal times and really connecting with those around you rather than eating in a rush, whilst distracted and all spending the evening on devices.
  5. Cooking: because both the process (only for some, granted!) and the end result can bring happiness! Focus on heart-warming choices that lift your spirits and leave you feeling nourished.
  6. We only get highs from having lows: free yourself from the impossible expectation of permanent happiness. It’s been a tough year on so many levels and accepting and acknowledging that is important. But hopefully there have been some small wins and some things you’re grateful for that you perhaps took for granted previously. Take those positives and truths about what makes you most happy with you to the other side of this craziness.

(* University College London neuroscientists have gamified their happiness research, so you can now play games at any time on your phone – being sensible about phone usage of course! – whilst contributing to a huge scientific experiment to understand more about how the brain works. You can find it on both the App Store and Google Play.)

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