Often, we don’t see things how they are. We see things as we are. And how we are has a lot to do with how we process our thoughts and emotions, and how we experience the environment around us. Our deep-seated desire for certainty and control also impacts our levels of happiness and wellbeing.
Generally speaking, we felt much more in control pre-pandemic than during the pandemic. Uncertainty and lockdowns lead to a spike in people experiencing loneliness, anxiety, depression, and relationship breakdown. Not all is negative news though.
There have been some positive realizations that the pandemic brought to our lives. For starters, it forced us to slow down and think about what truly makes us happy? Of course, happiness is subjective but still for most people the universal sources of happiness remain the same: having decent shelter, good food on the table, good health, strong relationships, enough money to pay the bills.
Happiness and money are always associated as mutually inclusive factors that make our life better. But better doesn’t necessarily imply happier.
There is a certain threshold, or so-called point of habituation, where happiness increases with levels of income until our basic needs are met. Once this point is reached, happiness plateaus so wealthy people aren’t happier than the upper-middle class.
In fact, according to Ipsos's study - “In comparison to the pre-pandemic survey conducted last year, the sources of happiness that have most gained in importance globally pertain to relationships, health, and safety. On the other hand, time and money have ceded some ground as drivers of happiness” – many people have developed detachment from materialism.
Actually, humans are hard-wired for psychological homeostasis, or the tendency to get used to circumstances quickly, both good and bad. This is the main reason money doesn’t buy happiness.
The answer is yes. Seeking control is a good thing but only up to a point. Beyond that point, the drive to control your environment, the circumstances, or other people as often is the case, can make you unhappy and miserable.
Being overly controlling in your intimate relationships, workplace settings, family and friends circle, and generally of the surrounding environment, leads to frustration, anger, conflicts, and it lowers happiness. If left unchecked this tendency can lead to mental health problems.
How can you mitigate control? The best way is to turn your focus internally by taking control of yourself.
You may not have control over all of the circumstances during the pandemic, but cooperating with other people, and taking responsibility for your own thoughts, emotions, and behavior, can save the day. You can change your reactions. You can change your actions. You can change your habits. You always have control over your response to life challenges. Use it wisely.
For millions of people, the pandemic crystalized the evidence-based fact that there are two constant factors that increase happiness - good relationships and good health. Meaningful relationships are associated with better health, greater happiness, and even longer life. So, take care of your relationships. Be kind and work on treating yourself and others with respect, understanding, and compassion.
For obvious reasons, people with poor health tend to be less happy than those who are well, so taking care of your health is really important. Start to make choices that are most healthy for your physical and emotional wellbeing. Eat well, sleep well, exercise often. And limit your social media consumption as it can increase anxiety and decrease self-esteem due to misinformation, fake news, and constantly comparing yourself against other people’s “great lives”.
We’re emotional beings so it’s true that our mood and happiness fluctuate relative to our thoughts, emotions, sense of control, beliefs, expectations, social interactions, genetics, environment, and other life factors. However, the fact remains that we can’t be positive/happy all the time and we can’t be negative/unhappy all the time.
Chasing happiness relentlessly and seeking high control is not good for your mental health and wellbeing. On the other hand, finding the right balance while accepting the natural ups and downs as an inevitable part of life, greatly improves your chances to feel happier and more satisfied.
Although the pandemic means your choices may be limited, you can still try to focus your attention on something within your control and work at it. Perhaps you can choose to take life's lemons and make lemonade when you intentionally start searching for that silver lining.