Happiness in the Time of Covid

“Happiness is a knife wrapped in silk, gliding across the belly. It always hurts. It tricks you for a time that life is kinder and more beautiful than it really is and then, just when you believe it, it’s thrust into your gut and given a good old twist before it’s snatched away again.” – Time

– Time and the Tree

It has been a bitterly cold winter. Perhaps it has always been this frigid, but I don’t recall. I shuffle from car to house, shoulders hunched against the freeze. I resent the frozen landscape.


Today, there was a thaw. The earth re-emerged from the snow, with its colours of autumn and promise of spring. I felt the sun on my face. The tangled breeze might have come off the ocean.


The shoulders dropped, and I paused on the path by the brook. It was swollen and intent on breaking its bonds. It had the look of one heading elsewhere. I envied its movement. It’s hard to be anchored. At least, it is for me.


The road was quiet, and the flag person, who was managing traffic, struck up a chat. We talked of the respite. The season’s turn. The state of the river. And the snow expected tomorrow.


We passed each other again on my return journey. “You just missed summer,” I was hailed, between a ragged cough and a chuckle. We both laughed. And, as I continued onward, she called after me, “Love ya, honey.”


My step lightened. My smile widened. The earth felt forgiving beneath my feet. It took so little, really. But, in that moment, I was happy.


Love is the coin of happiness. Where there is happiness, there is kindness, generosity and empathy.


In its absence, darkness rushes in to fill the space. The inner void breeds anger and despair, and lives of great emptiness follow.

Unhappiness, I’ve noticed, always looks for someone else to blame. But accosting the world for the absence of light, is like berating the mountain for being so tall. It is always within reach, with work and commitment, and the belief that it’s worth the effort. The higher the climb, the better the view. And then, there’s the journey.


These past couple of years, it almost seemed redundant to talk of happiness. We moved into survival mode. Focus shifted to getting groceries, keeping jobs, wearing masks, sourcing vaccines.


Covid put a stranglehold on connections, on smiles. Routine was broken. Days were discordant. Certainties were questioned. And, as in war, everyone’s experience was different.


Some got through it relatively unscathed; others felt like they were the only ones in the trenches.


Many will recall it as a period of death, loneliness, confusion. And the grief of endings was compounded by a pandemic that denied a last word, last touch, the comfort of a hand held.


Many will mourn the unnecessary return of mindless commutes to soulless offices. The opportunity to work from home, put kids to bed at night, and retreat into a familial space, was a blessing, for some.


For others that space became a prison. A gradual and persistent erasure of the self. The outside world a threat. The inner, a torment.


And, there was the conflict of both experiences, brushing up against each other. Reconciling these emotions could be a life-long endeavour.


The pandemic challenged us in ways we never anticipated. As a society, and as individuals, we demonstrated, on a massive scale, our capacity for change. And our propensity for goodness. People denied themselves the comfort of being with loved ones, in order to keep them safe. We witnessed feats of heroism on a daily basis, ranging from health workers’ herculean efforts, to parents who home-schooled their children, while holding down a job from the other side of the table.


The pandemic also stoked fear, and the era of the Other raised its wily head, once again. The void opened, and anger rushed in. Words were turned upon the bewildered in attempts to confound even further.


But now, the numbers are falling and the defences are coming down. We who have battled, are returning home. But it’s a different place, and we are not who we were before the pandemic. Nothing is quite as we remembered it. Borders have shifted, as have priorities.


Life will never be the same again.


Life should never be the same again.


The crank has turned. The chance to begin anew is upon us.


It is time to heal the anger and allay the fear. To renew our connection with ourselves and our world. It is time to free words from the knot of deceit.


It is time, to be happy.


It’s sounds a little trite, doesn’t it? After everything. Yet, it is no small thing.


Philosophers have been contemplating happiness for centuries. Its meaning, its morality, its psychological, social, even economic impact, has been mulled and debated. It’s a tricky, elusive concept, that either bends and weaves to the thinking of the time, or creates new modes of living and new thought patterns.


The pursuit of happiness is noble, and desperately needed at this time. Yet, we must be clear about what we are chasing. The zeitgeist, it seems to me, has falsely aligned happiness with perfection: the perfect partner; home; body; family; career. Take your pick, and post to Instagram. This is the epitome of the empty promise.


Our culture has also enmeshed happiness with guilt. It is self-serving, selfish, and indulgent; pitting self against the tribe. At a period when our survival feels threatened, this is a dangerous line of thinking. Socially, it is imperative that we think of others, show kindness, give support. This does not mean that we sacrifice ourselves.


Dousing one’s spark to let others shine is antithetical. It diminishes all of us. In suppressing the will to love and learn and be, it scrubs words and drags darkness into the space where the light should be.


Without happiness, we cannot help ourselves, let alone another. It comes back to the fundamental tenet that underlies pretty much every spiritual philosophy: love yourself; love others.


Happiness is not a luxury, or an afterthought. It’s not something to be experienced on a Friday night, when the week’s work is done. It is a constant battle to renew the self and live well in the moment. It is not contingent on luck or acquisition. Happiness is a choice that we make. It’s the decision to plough the scarred earth, rather than let the wounds fester.


It is time for growth. Our comfort levels in how we engage with the world, at this stage, are different. Some will step out, turn the lock on what’s past, and not look back. People will travel, wrap arms around loved ones, date, read books, dance. Others will stand at the window, and let the sun warm their faces.


There is no absolute way to be in the moment. Each must follow their instincts, with care and kindness, knowing that the choices are theirs to make. The season is turning. Change is upon us.


We are responsible for the paths we travel. Our capacity for fear and self-destruction is enormous. But, if the pandemic has taught us anything, so too is our ability to change, to fail, to fail better, to love, to immerse ourselves in the moment. Our capacity for happiness is also boundless.


The temperatures in my world will plummet again tomorrow. The earth will hold its secrets a little longer. It’s easy to embrace the light, when arms are outstretched on a sun-drenched, sandy island. But, today, I am reminded that happiness is also in a snatched conversation by the side of the road.


© Róisín Sorahan


3 March 2022


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