Watch out for begrudgery: it’s bad for your happiness
Padraig O’Morain: The ability to adapt will remain with us as we navigate the post-lockdown world
For all of us, those for whom it will be easy and those for whom it will be hard, what matters is to go into the new future with hope in our hearts. Photograph: iStock
I was lamenting with someone the other day, from across their hedge, that we are going to miss a lot of the old, familiar world when we emerge fully from the lockdown.
When I was walking away afterwards, I wondered if we are overdoing the gloom about how things are going to be.
I think the answer is, in most cases, yes.
Humans adapt well to change. In the modern era, we have got used to changes in technology, in how we work, in where we live, in social policy and in what we believe.
This capacity, called habituation, will remain with us as we gradually move through the new landscape in which we find ourselves.
This is not to minimise the pain - sometimes the devastation - of bereavement or of loss of employment. But we need to know how to take care of ourselves emotionally as we move, however painfully, forward.
We can help this process with a willingness to accept those changes that we have to accept. In this regard, it’s worth watching out for nostalgia. Putting a golden glow around, say, being happily crammed together in restaurants and bars back in the day, is fine - but if you are being so nostalgic that you can’t enjoy your dinner then you need to bring the curtain down on that rosy past. It might not have been all that rosy anyway.
We might also remember that, according to lots of research, about half our happiness level is down to our genes. We tend to return gradually to that level following short-term boosts or setbacks. A football fan devastated by their team’s defeat doesn’t stay devastated. They make their way back to their normal level of happiness.
According to that theory, about 40 per cent of our happiness is strongly influenced by our attitudes and choices and about 10 per cent by good or bad fortune. You can work with with that 40 per cent by making choices in your thinking and in your behaviour that are good for your happiness. I don’t know about you, but to me it’s cheering to think that I can write off 60 per cent of how I feel to genetics and Lady Luck.
You can also boost that 40 per cent by harnessing the power of of altruism and gratitude. I wrote recently here about how doing acts of kindness and reflecting on what we are grateful for boosts our wellbeing, so I won’t dwell on this here.
Also, watch out for begrudgery: it’s bad for you. Happy people are okay with knowing other people are having good fortune. Unhappy people are not. We often call ourselves a nation of begrudgers. We need to cut down on the begrudgery and even allow ourselves to take pleasure in the successes of others.
Finally, watch out for the drama queen in your brain. Your security system is located in the emotional part of your brain and it’s quick to “catastrophise” about the future, whether that future is today, next week or next year. Things are not just going to be challenging - they’re going to be terrible and it will be awful, she declares loudly and often. These kinds of predictions don’t usually come true but they make you feel worse, increasing your stress levels and, indeed, your blood pressure.
Remind yourself that the act of catastrophising hurts you in the here and now. Instead, take a cool and calm look at what is likely to happen. Or just go and do something useful or fun.
As I said above, people who suffered genuine losses in terms of work or of loved ones are caught in a process they can only partially control. But eventually they too can hope to build, and live in, a better future although they never wanted to have this battle on their hands.
For all of us, those for whom it will be easy and those for whom it will be hard, what matters is to go into the new future with hope in our hearts.
Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).