Living in an Upended World: Happiness in a Time of Darkness

Living in an Upended World: Happiness in a Time of Darkness

By Natalie Taylor

It’s not easy finding happiness in these stressful times. With uncertainty, fear, and distance from loved ones, in what corner of our lives do we search for a ray of sunshine to brighten our day? They say that those who consciously try to find happiness and joy have a better chance than those who simply leave it to chance. Scientists tell us there are four “happiness” hormones responsible for making us feel good: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. They are triggered by different activities—eating comfort food, exercise, acknowledgement of a job well done, achieving a goal, sunshine, laughter, kisses, sex, and cuddling (with humans or pets) and so on.

I decided to do an informal survey of friends to see what brings joy to their lives during these times of isolation and fear. I found common threads, and of course, the things that make them happy can be tied to the production of the aforementioned hormones. But, that’s not what this is about, it’s about the day-to-day activities that bring smiles to our faces.

What I found in all the responses was a focus on small, immediate things, and yes, as the saying goes, they are free: connecting with friends and family, nature, and pets. So many who responded emphasized their appreciation for being alive and many of them, grateful for being here, in our lovely San Miguel de Allende, with constant sunshine and the kindness of the people in the community. 

Here are some samples: Reminding myself of the blessings in my life…A call from my kids…Having a successful conversation in Spanish…Good herbal teas, meditation, exercise…Sitting in the sun…Afternoon walks and trying out new recipes…Seeing hummingbirds at the feeder…Walking with my dog…Being in touch with people, coffee in the morning, the crossword puzzle…Taking care of the garden…Seeing the Amazon delivery man, “my Santa Claus”…Playing with my cats, and hearing my husband’s laughter…Biting into a fresh, home-made cinnamon roll, and my painting.

I think what it boils down to is finding something that grounds us and gives us perspective. In her grim world of working with COVID patients, one friend finds it rewarding to be helping others. Another, a COVID and coma survivor is happy to walk two blocks. A Wisconsin friend is happy when an atypical warm day allows her to find a plant, still living, in her garden. Many repeated the importance of connecting to distant family and friends through Zoom or FaceTime, their joy in nature, a dog’s innocent “acceptance of life,” and most importantly, a sense that this too shall pass. We know this pandemic will be over, vaccines are just around the corner, and sometime soon we will return to how we used to be. Maybe it’s good to reflect on what made us happy during this awful year of “living dangerously” and keep on doing what brought us joy during those dark days. And a heartfelt thank you to all my friends—you bring happiness to me!