Updated: Apr 3
Forget the pandemic pivot, make a happiness pivot.
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The last year has been rough.
For many, it’s been filled with tension, fear, loss, uncertainty, and change. We’ve all been wrapped up in the cocoon of our homes, family or social pods, and a newly created comfort zone that can have a lasting impact on how we move forward.
For some, the comfort zone may be noticeably smaller while for others it will not be as noticeable and it may manifest in a subtle yet underlying sense of uncertainty and sadness. For others, the unexpected and devastating nature of the pandemic can even trigger post-traumatic stress.
How do I know? Because I experienced something similar in 2009 when I lost my job during the Great Recession — a job I’d dreamed about and sought since I was about 21 years old — publisher of a magazine in New York City. I was completely devastated at the loss.
Emotionally, I was gutted. The joy I had felt just a few weeks prior to getting my notice had been drained from my soul. Financially, I lost my income and while I had severance pay and savings, living in New York is expensive, so the monthly loss of income started to impact savings quickly after my severance payments dried up.
My family kept insisting that I return “home” to Miami but I wanted to stay in New York more than ever. My world grew smaller as I threw myself into applying for new jobs — sending out dozens of resumes morning through the night. Media and publishing jobs had dried up and while I was finally able to find some consulting work in another field, I wasn’t bringing in anywhere near the amount of money I was making at my former corporate job.
That experience pushed me to one of the darkest times in my life. I felt lost, alone, and as if everything I had worked for my entire adult life until then, had been taken away from me at the prime of my career and in the prime of my life.
I had defined my life by my job and the money I made, and now that both were gone, I had to figure out who I was.
I didn’t feel like it, but I knew I had to fight my way back to the light with every single ounce of life I had inside of me. I started reading and listening to personal growth books as if my life depended on it — because it did. To put what I was learning into practice, I created several practices that helped me find my way back to myself.
Thankfully, I did. I built a successful business in New York and a happy life.
Flash to 2020.
When the pandemic hit, I felt the same sensations of fear and uncertainty bubbling up inside me. COVID-19 was not only devastating us as a species and nation but as individuals. Millions have lost their livelihoods, jobs, or businesses that they built with sweat and tears, while others have lost their homes or beloved family members.
Weeks into the pandemic, I realized that I needed to revisit the life-changing practices I had created for myself just a little over 10 years before, but from this new perspective. Once again, I had to find new footing, fight to keep my light shining and do everything I could to keep the joy from fading in my life.
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Here are five of the happiness-inducing practices I took on.
1. Create New Joy-Sparking Habits
Our lives are filled with habits, some conscious while others are unconscious — but how many of those habits are intentionally meant to spark joy or bring us true happiness?
When I started this process, I decided to do an inventory and created several happiness-inducing habits. Here are a few of them:
Running in Central Park every other day even in the middle of winter. I’ve run in Central Park thousands of times and I feel joy to be there each and every time.
Walking along the Hudson River in Riverside Park almost on a daily basis. It’s paradise in the city.
Having brunch once a month with two of my closest friends. Can *everyone* say mimosa, please?
Going to the opera every season. I can’t get enough of the Met.
Working outdoors with my laptop every Friday during the spring and summer
Having picnics almost on a weekly basis during the warmer months
Taking annual fall foliage trips. These have turned into foodcations as we’ve discovered wineries, cheese tours, local fudge shops, and many excellent farm-to-table experiences.
Watching romcoms on the weekends. Cheesy, I know.
Commiserating with neighbors in my building and talking to my doorpeople on a daily basis. Doorpeople are family.
Having a glass of wine and a dark chocolate square every night. A forever habit.
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In addition, I created several joy-inducing daily habits that I decided to track in my daily planner. These include:
Writing in my gratitude journal
Listening to personal growth and development audiobooks every day
Celebrating my daily wins
Daily exercise which includes the runs and walks mentioned earlier
Starting and maintaining habits can be challenging. In the past, I’ve started with every intention of keeping my habits but a few days or weeks in, I’d already forgotten about them. I’d put stickies on my desk, reminders on my calendar, and alarms on my phone, but I’d simply ignore the alarm or snooze it until it quit!
It wasn’t a conscious action. It was automatic because I already had other deep-seated habits in place that easily overrode my attempts to build new ones.
I realized that to start and ingrain my new habits, I had to create anchors that piggybacked on existing habits. So, being of Spanish and Italian ancestry, there are two things I love to do daily and would never forget to do…and that’s to have dinner and drink coffee!
So, for example, I now use the time between setting up my espresso machine for my after-dinner coffee as my anchor for my meditation habit.
Every day after dinner, I put the grounds in the machine, set my cup in place, and sit down for my meditation. Happy thoughts of my after-meditation espresso or Americano brimming in my mind as I settle into my meditation cushion and dive into bliss.
2. Create Happiness-Driven Experiences
While participating in any activities in the past year may have been challenging, there are still many new happiness-inducing experiences we can create for ourselves even while following social distancing and safety guidelines.
Experiences are opportunities to create happiness.
The big experiences may take more planning while smaller ones can be more spontaneous and be incorporated into our everyday lives. The goal is to create happy moments and memories!
The secret is to be driven by what brings you an inner tingling of excitement. Does the proposed experience light you up?
So often, we get caught up in repeating the same activities over and over again — whether they bring us joy or not.
Try something different.
If you’ve gone camping with your family every year, next year, rent an RV or stay in an off-the-grid log cabin. Or, if you go to the shore every summer, take a few day trips to explore new places within an hour’s drive and see what you find.
If necessary, have someone you trust create a day trip for you or a day or two of your itinerary for your next vacation.
Not planning any trips? Enjoy a staycation as a tourist in your own town.
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A couple of years ago, I took a joy-sparking outdoor adventure trip to Nevada. The itinerary was developed for me by someone else which was great because I would never have chosen the experiences they selected for me.
I’m a city girl through and through. I likely would’ve only booked shows, musicals, and food and wine-related activities.
Even though the trip included a super cool Cirque du Soleil show, a food tour, and a few concerts, it also included riding dune buggies in the desert, taking an air tour over the Grand Canyon, hiking at Red Rock, and zip-lining over the Mojave Desert, among other things.
That’s me second from the left in the pic with my tour group.
It. Was. Amazing.
It truly was a happiness-inducing experience I will never forget!
Who said city girls can’t escape the concrete jungle for the real jungle — or desert — and love it?
I’m now planning another post-COVID outdoor adventure trip incorporating some of the activities I tried last time, like ziplining and hiking, while seeking out new ones!
But you don’t have to take a trip to the jungle or desert to create joy-sparking, happiness-inducing experiences. You can start right in your backyard or at a nearby park.
I tried this with my mom. She’s a very social person, who used to love to go to Zumba with her friends pre-COVID. The inability to go out and socialize has been particularly challenging for her. So, I bought a pickleball set to play with her in the backyard when I visit.
We’re both pretty physically active and in good shape but apparently very uncoordinated when it comes to pickleball! Since this was during COVID-19, we were both wearing masks so it made it more difficult to breathe while laughing hysterically. Despite that challenge presented by the masks, we had a great time.
While super simple, playing pickleball with my mom has become a regular happiness-inducing experience when I visit her.
3. Nurture Relationships & Grow Your Community
If you’re an avid reader of personal growth and development literature, you may have already heard of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
Launched in 1938, it’s one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. The over 80-year-old study, which began by tracking the lives and health of 268 Harvard sophomores, has gone on to include the offspring of the original participants for an unprecedented generational look at what are the components of a happy and healthy life. The answer…
Love, relationships, and social connections in your life make for increased happiness. The happiest and healthiest people were those who leaned into relationships with family, friends, and community.
“The good life is built with good relationships.” — Robert Waldinger, TED Talk, “What makes a good lie? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.”
Nurturing relationships and creating community is something that can be challenging. For some people, it became even more so after the pandemic as so many of us faced personal hardships, fear, and anxiety as the world went into lockdown.
“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” — Robert Waldinger
One of the best ways to emerge from the pandemic haze, nurture relationships, and create community is to volunteer to do something you already love to do or have a talent for.
For example, if you love dogs, you could volunteer to walk dogs at your local animal shelter. For years, I fostered dogs and took them to adoption events on the weekends. The pups wore vests with “Adopt Me” stamped on them so I was always approached by other dog lovers to talk about the pups on our daily walks.
For a quick start, gather your best friends and contact your community center, church, or local volunteer management organization to see if they could use a group of volunteers to help in some way. This is a great way to give back to your community and nurture your existing relationships while creating new ones.
Here are some other ideas:
Make time every week to call a friend or relative to catch up and see who they’re doing
Join an in-person or virtual hobby/activity group and actively participate
Gather a group of friends and create a book club, walking or running group, or volunteer group. Ask them to invite their friends as well.
The idea is to connect, deepen your relationships, and make new friends.
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4. Infuse Your Life with Fun
Actively and consciously infusing fun into your post-COVID life will make for a much happier you than one without as much fun.
But how many times have you said to yourself or a friend or partner that it would be fun to do something and then immediately followed it with a version of, “but I just don’t have time for that!”
Make a commitment to creating fun now. Don’t leave it up to chance.
Plus, creating fun can be oodles of fun in itself!
Creating fun doesn’t have to be a big trip or expensive. In fact, you can have fun by yourself dancing to music you love, being goofy with your dog, going skydiving/roller skating/sailing, or baking cookies with oldies playing in the background.
If you have a partner, kids, or family, you can create even more fun moments like learning to skateboard together, having a picnic at a nearby beach with food each of you made, decorating cupcakes together while you sing songs at full throttle, or taking a drive to a nearby town you’ve always wanted to visit but never made time to do so.
What fun activities can you plan for this year — this month, this weekend?!?
5. Create New Happiness-Driven Dreams
Now is the perfect time to revisit your dreams and create new ones.
During the pandemic, many lost jobs, businesses, friends, spouses, parents, homes, and more — including dreams. The only way back from that for me was and has been to acknowledge, honor, and be deeply grateful for what and who I’ve been so fortunate to have had in my life. It’s not the first thing or the only thing, but it is an essential part of the grieving process. It’s also an essential step in finding a new path, giving yourself permission to be happy, and creating new dreams.
During the course of the last few months, we’ve often heard how people and companies have made a pandemic pivot.
How about making a happiness pivot?
Turn toward your happiness. Turn toward what and who makes you happy — that which sparks joy in your heart, and what brings a smile to your face.
Create your new happiness-driven dreams from there.