How does one find happiness in the age of COVID-19? I mean, if you are even the slightest sort of thinking and feeling person, you have no doubt been more than just a little sad these days, given that we’re living during the worst global pandemic in more than a century.
Yet, if you aspire to be the rational hero of your own life, as I do, then you must not let the doom and gloom defeat your spirit.
The great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables) once said, “Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
Well, for many of us, we’ve had a lot of time to sit down quietly and reflect on our lives during this lockdown. For some, that can be a discomforting proposition. Unfortunately, when many people look inside themselves, they don’t much like what they see. That’s one reason why drug and alcohol addiction relapses are increasing. However, for those of us who seek the path of greater happiness despite this viral cloud, there are many tools at our disposal.
One of my favorite tools is the work of my friend, the brilliant psychologist Dr. Joel Wade. I call Dr. Wade the “resident guru of happiness” on my “Way of the Renaissance Man” podcast. Dr. Wade has been a guest on the show multiple times, and he always delivers practical techniques on how to increase happiness.
In his latest podcast appearance, Dr. Wade told me about a few techniques he recommends on how to focus your mind on what actually makes you happy, how to look at a problem from “the outside” and why focusing on the negative is not a good problem-solving technique. I highly recommend Dr. Wade’s work, especially his superb book, “The Virtue of Happiness.” You can check out his website at DrJoelWade.com.
Another interesting voice in this relatively new, yet eminently important field of “happiness” research is Arthur C. Brooks. A professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, and a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, Brooks just debuted a column on the subject in The Atlantic. The new column is titled, “How to Build a Life,” which Brooks and Brooks describes it as a column that “aims to give you the tools you need to construct a life that feels whole and meaningful.”
In the first column, “The Three Equations for a Happy Life, Even During a Pandemic,” Brooks argues, correctly in my opinion, that because of the involuntary quiet caused by the COVID-19 quarantine, many of us have sensed an opportunity to think a little more deeply about life. “In our go-go-go world, we rarely get the chance to stop and consider the big drivers of our happiness and our sense of purpose,” Brooks writes.
In the column, which I definitely recommend, Brooks outlines what he calls his “three equations for well-being.” These can help you start managing your own happiness more proactively.
Equation One is: SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING = GENES + CIRCUMSTANCES + HABITS
While Brooks says that he dislikes the idea of anything about his character or personality being genetically determined (as do I), he does say that the research is clear that “there is a huge genetic component in determining your ‘set point’ for subjective well-being, the baseline you always seem to return to after events sway your mood.”
Anecdotally, I find this to be true. One way to think about this is to consider the highest and lowest points in your life. Unfortunately, the happiness of an extreme high always seems to fade far too soon. Conversely, the relative evanescence of a broken heart also tends to fade in the same swift fashion. The point here is that, as humans, we have a tendency toward a return to stasis and an ability to get back to our subjective well-being set point regardless of the impact of major negative events such as COVID-19.
Equation Two is: HABITS = FAITH + FAMILY + FRIENDS + WORK
The key takeaway from this equation is, as Brooks puts it, “Enduring happiness comes from human relationships, productive work, and the transcendental elements of life.” And while habits such as faith, family, friends and work can be defined differently by everyone, Brooks argues that a healthy balance of each is what matters.
“Equation two is especially worth considering during our pandemic isolation. Ask yourself: Is my happiness portfolio balanced across these four accounts? Do I need to move some things around? Are there habits I can change during this pause?” I think this is a great exercise to conduct at any time in your life, but especially now. And if you find yourself out of balance, then make the necessary alterations.
Equation Three is: SATISFACTION = WHAT YOU HAVE ÷ WHAT YOU WANT
This is a tough one to navigate for most of us, especially for me. The reason why is that I have a voracious appetite for life experiences and for the things and the people that allow me to better celebrate my finite existence. The problem with this kind of appetite is that “what you want” can easily overshadow the “what you have.”
I try not to get caught up in trying to increase what I have to keep up with what I want, but it’s admittedly difficult. According to Brooks, “Many of us go about our lives desperately trying to increase the numerator of Equation Three; we try to achieve higher levels of satisfaction by increasing what we have — by working, spending, working, spending, and on and on. But the hedonic treadmill makes this pure futility. Satisfaction will always escape our grasp.”
Fortunately, over the past decade I’ve become increasingly grateful for my good fortune and for the things and people that enhance my life. And I’ve found that the more gratitude I have for what I’ve got, the happier I am — and the happier I am, the more I am grateful. Think of this as the anti-hedonistic approach to life and an approach that has served me well in recent years.
So, if you are feeling understandably unhappy in this age of COVID-19, why not take a little time to reflect on what happiness really is and how you can construct a life of purpose, virtue and flourishing?
Man is a being of self-made soul, so go out and make your soul as happy as it can be.
What Makes A Renaissance Man Tick?
At the risk of sounding embarrassingly self-serving, I’ll first let you know that many readers and listeners to my podcast have asked me how I came to be called “The Renaissance Man.”
Well, it’s a nickname that was given to me by my friends in college, and ever since then, the moniker has just stuck. But what is a Renaissance Man, how does one become a Renaissance Man and what is it that makes a Renaissance Man “tick”?
In the new episode of the Way of the Renaissance Man podcast, the tables get turned, as I go from interviewer to interviewee, courtesy of my friends and “Position To Win” authors John Paul Mendocha and Gabe Bautista.
In this revealing interview, I talk about my educational and professional background and how my experiences have shaped my approach to life. I also tell you why I love doing so many different things.
Most importantly, you’ll discover why the key to becoming a Renaissance Man is to focus on the ideas you love and then integrate those ideas into action. The combination of focus and integration is what allows one to celebrate those integrated ideas in action.
If you’ve ever wanted to find out what makes a Renaissance Man tick, then this special reprise interview from the “Position To Win” podcast is what you’ve been looking for.
The Whetstone of the Mind
“… a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
–George R.R. Martin, “A Game of Thrones”
Keeping one’s mental edge during this global pandemic isn’t the easiest of tasks. I know that at times, I’ve fallen victim to the universal sadness, angst and fear humanity is currently experiencing. Yet if we want to prevail, and if we want to help our fellow man thrive, then it’s incumbent upon us all to do what we can to keep our minds and our spirits fresh and honed with a sharp edge. And as Martin tells us, the best way to keep our mental edge is with the whetstone of books.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,