Happiness the best medicine

Raising morale: A man playing the guitar from a balcony in Milan to raise morale on the sixth day of an unprecedented lockdown in Italy to stop the spread of Covid-19. — Reuters

MOST of us are mentally and physically preoccupied with Covid-19. We worry about how long this crisis will last and how it will impact our work (i.e. finances), studies (i.e. our future), daily life, for example food and necessities (i.e. our security), our country/world (i.e. our humanity), and obviously our health (i.e. our safety).

Covid-19 has exposed our vulnerability as humans. Medically, socially, politically (and some may say religiously), we were not prepared for this large-scale global

disaster. If ever we thought of such a scale of an attack, we would have expected it to come from terrorists, nuclear war or aliens from another planet, not from a tiny bug that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

If you are already confined at home or hospital, the risk for psychological distress increases. The longer the confinement, smaller the space and lower the contact with positive resources, the higher the risk for stress, distress and depression.

But we are far from helpless. Ironic as it may sound, one key reason for the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, celebrated on March 20 every year, is the suffering of humanity and our planet.

Happiness is not about laughing, although laughing can be one of its signs. Happiness is not about being on cloud nine, although it can sometimes manifest itself in good feelings. Happiness is the power we give a situation even when we feel bad about it. We do have a choice. So, if we had to choose one defining word to describe happiness, it would be “choice”.

While the virus can disrupt our body’s functioning as well as our social functioning, it cannot take away the choices we make in how we face up to it. Yes, we can lie down and give up, and wait for the virus to attack, or we can choose to pre-empt the attack in a way that builds our resilience.

Studies have shown that when our thinking is channelled positively, for example towards happiness, it is easier for us to stay resilient even in adversity.

Happiness does not need to come naturally for people. It can be learned, and it can be applied in our behaviour. Human happiness has three key characteristics, and these map onto our thinking, feeling and doing.

1. Happiness is a conscious thought.

2. Happiness is an emotional experience.

3. Happiness is a behavioural action.

For us to function effectively and successfully in a crisis, we need to be aware of how we are thinking, how we are feeling and what we are doing. This is especially important when people need our help and support.

If you are sitting at home anxious for whatever reasons you have, you can choose to combat this anxiety and the virus with a dose of happiness. Once you choose to be happy, no matter the situation, you have given yourself power and permission to take the necessary steps to achieve this happiness.

If you have children at home, your choice of happiness may determine that you choose to create memorable moments with them even if their energy can drive you up the wall.

If you are out of work, your choice of happiness may determine that you choose to take free courses online to upgrade your skills and help make you feel better about yourself.

If you are sick or depressed, your choice of happiness may determine that you choose to create a support group through reaching out via online resources.

These choices created by our thinking help us plan our actions, which help us to maintain positive feelings about ourselves and our loved ones even in the midst of challenges.

These ideas may not sound as big as the UN’s “10 steps to Global Happiness”, but they are equally important. They are important because you are important. You and your happiness matter!

Each individual’s happiness contributes to the community happiness, which contributes to a nation’s happiness, which contributes to global happiness. Happiness is not just a shared human experience but also a fundamental human right.

A lockdown cannot stop you from thinking out of the box on ways you can choose to be happy. Best yet, your choices and actions can be shared with others, and this can empower others to take the steps towards happiness.

Belated Happy International Day of Happiness.


Applied Developmental and Counselling Psychologist

Kuala Lumpur

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