The Happiness Connection  

Stay positive during virus

When I decided to make happiness the centre of my work, I struggled with feeling dismissed by traditional businesses.

I knew how important a sense of positive well-being was for productivity, staff retention, and success, but not everyone could see the link between that and the bottom line.

Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic clutches the world, I am running into a similar sentiment. Social media posts and columns are popping up suggesting it is time to put away thoughts of rainbows and puppies and see what is really happening.

For anyone who is tempted to buy into this philosophy, I would like to express a few thoughts in defence of silver linings.

Your brain is the control centre in your body. When you physically sense something, signals are sent to your head office to be interpreted.

Your mind’s priority is to keep you alive. If it perceives a threat of any kind, it will trigger the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-flight response.

When this happens, chemicals such as cortisol are released to give you the best chance of survival. These allow you to:

  • Be more focused on the perceived threat
  • Hear and see more acutely
  • Run faster
  • Hit harder
  • Assess your skill level more accurately.

To do this, your blood pressure increases and non-essential body functions such as digestion and reproduction shut down.

It is a great system, but it was designed for a simpler life when you only needed it long enough to outrun, out muscle, or succumb to your threat.

We are talking minutes, not days, weeks, or years.

Think about a time when someone jumped out at you or appeared unexpectedly. When you realized they weren’t a threat, you may have noticed how fast your heart was beating and how tense your body was.

After a few moments of recovery, everything would return to normal.

Stress, fear, and anxiety are emotions that indicate your sympathetic nervous system has been triggered. It isn’t uncommon for any of these emotions to last longer than just a few minutes, unless you make a conscious effort to change them.

The long-term health implications of being in the fight-flight response include:

  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration problems

With the current crisis plunging everyone into the unknown, it is easy to be consumed by negative emotions.

I’m not suggesting you pretend that everything is rosy. Give yourself time to experience any grief that rises up and then turn your energy to things you can control.

When your body feels a sensation in its stomach, encourage your brain to interpret it as hunger or excitement, not anxiety.

This is where looking for silver linings comes in. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and actively triggering feel-good emotions, you will be happier and healthier.

  • Limit the amount of time you consume news that makes you feel negative
  • Listen to music
  • Exercise
  • Get into nature
  • Get creative with crafts, words, music, art, etc.
  • Laugh as often as possible
  • Look for the humour in any situation
  • Stay connected with friends and family
  • Get lots of sleep
  • Establish a new routine
  • Remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see it yet.

This isn’t an ostrich strategy. I am not encouraging people to bury their heads in the sand and pretend these aren’t challenging times.

I am suggesting that the best way forward is to stay mentally and physically healthy. Being positive is a lifestyle and searching for silver linings is an integral part of that.


Toilet paper philosophy

The last time I went to Costco was the first day of their social-distancing initiatives.

They were only letting a limited number of people in at one time.

I was there early, hoping I could nip in and out in record time. A lot of people had the same idea because the queue that snaked through the loading bay reminded me of Disneyland, minus the smiles and entertainers.

When I got into the building, I laughed to see an employee holding a sign with the words Toilet Paper on it and an arrow. It directed shoppers to a different location than this item is usually found.

I have been mystified about the toilet paper hoarding since I first heard about it.

Why toilet paper? COVID-19 doesn’t have stomach flu symptoms; it is respiratory, like influenza. Anyone suffering from it is unlikely to need more rolls than usual.

People have been advised to have enough supplies to last a quarantine of two weeks. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go through multiple rolls a day.

I’ve heard a few different versions of how this run on loo rolls got started, so I decided to turn to Ms. Google and see what I could uncover.

Did you know this isn’t the first time a crisis has led to the same mass buying of toilet paper?

During the oil crisis of 1973, an American congressman warned about a disruption to the toilet paper supply chain. Late night TV host Johnny Carson shared this undoubtedly hoping for a laugh from the nation.

Instead, he got hysteria.

Despite being assured that there was no shortage, and that the supply chain was fine, people ran out to stock up. This phenomenon lasted for four months.

Control and fear are two of the major issues when a frenzy to buy something such as toilet paper surfaces.

Autonomy, or the desire for perceived control over your life, is one of the basic needs of all humans.

If you feel you are powerless, life is bleak.

COVID-19 is causing many people to feel helpless. Buying toilet paper is something they can do. It may not be the most useful thing, but it is an opportunity to take some level of control during this unsettling time.

The crisis is also ramping up fear. Fear is contagious.

If the strangers in front of you are piling toilet paper into their shopping cart, you are likely to start doing the same. You may recognize you don’t have any reason to copy them, but then they may know something you don’t.

This is the reaction that fosters FOMO — fear of missing out. It is the herd mentality. Witnessing the actions of others, combined with news reports and social media posts, will have you following suit.

Even though I know I have enough loo rolls to last me many months, I decided to follow the stream of Costco shopping carts. I wanted to fully experience this phenomenon.

I passed the major appliances and then saw what can only be described as a toilet paper attendant.

An employee was standing by stacks of two different brands, guarding it carefully. You were only allowed one and were asked not to pick it up yourself. He loaded it for you.

Even though I didn’t need more, I found myself voicing my brand preference and having it added to my cart.

I tell myself that I wanted to experience, not just observe, what was happening. That may be true, or perhaps I am fooling myself. I don’t think it matters. There isn’t a shortage, so my actions won’t deprive others and I will eventually use it.

According to one online toilet-paper calculator, I can be quarantined for 2 1/2 years without concern about running out. One fewer worry can’t be a bad thing.

Silver linings hard to see

The pandemic is something that will be remembered and recounted long after it's over.

This is probably the biggest global event since the Second World War.

I recognize that levels of anxiety and fright have risen in the past weeks. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a single moment of concern. But I also understand that challenge brings opportunity for positive change.

If you talk to people who lived in London during WWII, there is a recurring theme. They reminisce about the sense of camaraderie and community they felt, even though times were difficult and scary.

Very few people are living the same life today as they did a few months or even weeks ago. We are all being forced to make changes. Rather than yearning for life to return to normal, try seeing this time as an opportunity to experiment with change.

Most people prefer to stick with things that are familiar. It’s part of our evolutionary programming. This dislike of the unfamiliar is contributing to the discomfort many people are feeling as their lives are being altered.

Social distancing may be new to you, but I’m practised at it. I have been socially distanced for most of this calendar year. Although I didn’t need to avoid people, my broken ankle meant I spent a lot of time at home on my own.

About a week after I was healthy enough to venture into the world again, social distancing was recommended. I love my home, but sometimes I sit in it and try to remember what life was like when I was free to come and go as I pleased.

Although I had my eyes open for a blessing when I broke my ankle, it didn’t reveal itself quickly.

I have always been driven. I like to accomplish projects and frequently have an overly full to-do list. More than one person over the years has told me they were exhausted just listening to everything I wanted to get done.

Slipping on the ice changed all that. I had to slow down. If I did too much, I suffered. It takes time to recover from surgery. Even when I felt I should be well enough to do some work; my energy was quickly zapped.

It was frustrating.

Eventually, I stopped trying to re-establish the old pace and accepted that the things I needed to achieve would get done. Everything else was optional.

I have established a more peaceful relationship with time. I don’t push myself the way I used to. I get everything done that needs to be, but I don’t sweat over all the extra things that don’t really matter.

I intend to continue living at a slower, more fluid pace, even when this difficult time is over.

Social distancing has undoubtedly made a difference in your life, but instead of cursing it, accept that it may also be bringing a blessing or two:

  • If you live with family, perhaps you are spending more time together.
  • If you are adjusting to working from home, maybe you are finding ways to streamline your schedule.
  • If you are juggling work with childcare responsibilities, I hope you will gain a whole new perspective on balance.

Rather than trying to keep things as close to normal as possible, try deliberately doing things differently. Remember that you are programmed to dislike change, so when you first start doing this, it won’t feel as good as your regular routines.

Be curious. Throw away convention and think about creative ways to make the best of being home as a family, or home alone.

Sometimes unusual times require unique solutions.

When our children were young, we often shared a room together on family holidays. Instead of trying to maintain regular bedtimes, we all went to bed at the same time. It worked well.

Try having soup for breakfast and cereal for supper. Instead of doing the housework by yourself, enlist the aid of your family. Create a home spa, movie, or play experience.

Covid19 is interrupting lives, but maybe it isn’t all bad. Silver linings can be hard to spot, but take time to consider what positives are hiding in these coronavirus clouds?


Keep your social distance

I remember a neighbour’s 12-year-old daughter declaring that she had a boyfriend. That wasn’t unusual, but finding out she had never met this boy was.

I was dismissive and somewhat judgmental of her use of the word boyfriend.

This was about 20 years ago, when society was only beginning its trip into a new world of technology. I didn’t realize it then, but this was my first glimpse at what was to come.

I belong to online groups through social media. I have connected with people I’ve never met in person. In fact, the retreat I was supposed to be at this month was going to give me the opportunity to finally meet in person some people I had known for a few years online.

The debate over online vs. in-person relationships continues to rage. It is a topic that comes up almost every time I work with teachers or parents. Connecting with others is a great way to boost your mood.

Can this be done as effectively if the connection is virtual?

I’m not here to continue that debate. It was just one of the thoughts that came into my head when I listened to an interview on the radio. They were discussing social distancing.

This isn’t a term that I was familiar with until recently. We are being urged to practise social distancing to slow down the spread of COVID19.

What is social distancing? This is the term being used to describe the recommended steps everyone can take to slow down the spread of this virus. 

In other words, socialize and connect from a distance. The recommended distance is six feet.

That doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit or sacrifice your quality of life. You just need to pivot a little.

  • Rather than shaking hands or hugging when you meet, wave.
  • Order groceries online and have them delivered.
  • Use delivery services instead of going to a restaurant.
  • Boost your mood and stay fit by spending time in nature.
  • Avoid public transport if possible. If you can’t, take your hand sanitizer with you and try to avoid busy times.

For generation X and millennials, social distancing may cause disappointment, but is unlikely to pose social problems. Many of them have been practising their whole lives for a situation like this.

It’s the people who grew up in a time before this technology and then resisted it when it arrived, who will struggle the most. 

When retirement homes implement social distancing by cancelling weekly events, it is easy for their residents to get lonely. 

If you have elderly family or friends who are experiencing social distancing, think about giving them a little more attention. They may not have a computer, but I’m sure they all have phones. 

Reach out and connect with someone who might be finding this time of isolation challenging. Acts of kindness benefit the giver just as much as the receiver. 

You may have been practising social distancing for much of your life. This is the perfect time to use it for the good of others. 

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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