Gayle Kimball, Director of EarthHaven, graduated from UC Berkely and earned her MA and Ph.D degree from UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. She taught students at CSU, Chico as a professor of Women’s Studies and Sociology, and is Professor Emerita. She is the author of 22 books including The Teen Trip: The Complete Resource Guide, and Your Guide to Academic Success: Beat Burnout. You can contact her at www.gaylekimball.info and see her advice column at https://www.lotusguide.com/category/dr-gayles-column/ – Ed
The COVID-19 pandemic increased our global stress level, so I wrote Calm: How to Thrive in Challenging Times and Calm Parents and Children: A Guidebook. I interviewed California psychiatrist Ahmed Abouesh about how to cope during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, as seen on my YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/uCpH3yCuRpA). He emphasized keeping to a routine schedule: Exercise daily, stay hydrated, go to sleep at the same time, and avoid alcohol. He suggested limiting access to information about the crisis, which can be overwhelming and increase anxiety. He suggested reaching out to talk with friends and family — virtually. Being unable to process the onslaught of information leads to anxiety, so we may need to limit our time hearing news. It’s helpful to acknowledge the fact that most people survive and that it will end soon as we now have vaccines.
Self-talk is powerful, so we can feel better as we become more mindful about our thought patterns. About half of our predisposition to be happy and optimistic is genetic, about 10% is shaped by our situation, and 40% is our thinking patterns. A study of identical twins separated at birth and raised in different families found that genetics determines about half of our happiness level and we have a mindset that influences our happiness. Lottery winners and paraplegics who lose the use of their legs return to their level of happiness before the big change but we can use various ways to become happier. Psychologist David Schkade suggests that we start by changing one hour a day when we do things we dislike, to doing things we like. Taking action is the key, he says. Many studies show that happy people feel supported by emotional ties with close friends and family and express gratitude for their blessings.
Martin Seligman is the author of more than a dozen books and father of the Positive Psychology Movement, which studies the processes that contribute our optimal functioning rather than abnormal psychology. Seligman believes “happiness-building exercises” can increase contentment because they can change a person’s memory and perception of the past. To boost your own happiness factor, add to your gratitude list daily, write a letter to someone you’d like to thank, and set aside time for your favorite activities. His website includes tests you can take to identify your strengths and your happiness and depression levels. Seligman defines three parts of happiness: pleasure (the least important), involvement with what you love, and meaning or serving a bigger purpose. Just being happy helps others because happiness spreads. A professor found that we’re happier when people around us are happy since attitudes move through social networks “like pebbles thrown into a pond.” (https://ethics.harvard.edu/people/nicholas-christakis)
Don’t expect perfection. Know that we learn by making mistakes, although hopefully we learn and stop repeating the same errors. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, suggests: Keep a gratitude journal, learn to be optimistic, be kind, have friends, forgive, enjoy the pleasures of life, practice spirituality, commit to your goals and break them down into baby steps, and take care of your body. Happiness grows from connecting to others you like, with love and respect. Also, happiness follows from the pride and satisfaction of achieving one of your goals and helping someone else. Developing your talents and abilities leads to happiness. Other causes of happiness are healthy stimulation of your senses, such as eating a fresh natural meal, seeing new sights and experiencing new smells while traveling to new places, and looking at beauty created by nature or human artists. Dr. Laurie Nadel suggests keeping a happiness jar where you drop in pieces of paper describing what makes you happy, then reading them a month later.
Daily Coping Guidelines
- Do what you don’t like doing or what is hard for you at your most energetic times of the day.
- Break difficult tasks into sections to tackle gradually. As one part is completed, it gives you energy to go on to the next part.
- Listen to your intuition and pay attention to synchronicities. Guidance is there if we set the intention to ask for wisdom and take quiet time to listen.
- Thought has power: use positive visualizations to achieve your goals. Coach yourself with praise and suggestions for improvement.
- When you make a mistake, ask what the lesson is, rather than blaming.
- Research shows that sense of gratitude is the most powerful determinant of well-being, so keep a gratitude journal. Ask yourself and others what you’re enjoying as you go about your day.