COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Mental health

Ways of finding happiness in challenging times

A woman smiles out the window.

We are all facing huge changes to our everyday lives as people all around the world are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although it is a challenging time, it’s important to find moments of happiness to help us through.

So, what makes you happy?

Is it a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Is it hearing your favourite song? Does learning a new activity or exploring new places fill your heart with happiness?

Turns out you don’t have to go far to find it.

Happiness means something different to each person, and while we all have tough moments when we feel down, the experts say there are some simple ways of finding happiness every day that can help lift your spirits.

Feeling grateful

“Cultivating an attitude of gratitude and feeling grateful for what you have in your present life has been shown to be associated with greater happiness or subjective well-being,” says Dr. Sam Iskandar, clinical psychologist at St. John’s Rehab.

Dr. Iskandar says one way to do this is by savouring the moment when something positive happens to you. “By having an awareness of what you enjoy in life and seeing your ability to take part in those things as a ‘gift’ or ‘blessing,’ rather than taking those things for granted and focusing on burdens. This can be as simple as noticing the smile of a loved one, your pet cuddling beside you, or the smell and taste of your favourite meal.”

Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be a difficult task.

“It can be quite simple. You can start by just listing five things that you are thankful for right this very moment,” says Lesley Stretton, child and youth counsellor at Sunnybrook. “When we’re thankful for what we have, we often feel happier, more satisfied and less stressed.”

Another way to practice gratitude is by taking a few moments out of the day to write in a gratitude journal.

“The simple act of writing down the things we’re grateful for, tend to make us feel better and more connected to others,” Stretton explains.

Know your strengths

What is your strength?

Are you creative? Kind? Are you brave? Maybe you’re a good leader who is terrific at pulling a team together. Or, perhaps you have a good sense of humour that keeps people smiling. These are examples of character strengths and they can be important in helping you find a bit of “happy” in your day.

“Studies in positive psychology have shown that when people know what their strengths are, and intentionally use them in their day-to-day life, they tend to feel greater happiness,” says Dr. Iskandar.

“Look into your strengths and find ways to use them,” encourages Stretton. “Find things that interest you. Perhaps it’s music or cooking. We all have strengths; some of us just need to discover them!”

Maybe your digital skills have helped you bring your family and friends together online during this time of “social distancing” and in a way, you’re connecting, and making connections like never before!

The power of positive thinking and the importance of balance

“Positive thinking has important benefits, such as helping someone with strong negative beliefs see things from another perspective,” says Dr. Iskandar.

But, he adds, it’s important to allow yourself to experience both positive and negative emotions, especially at difficult times.

“Trying to be positive all the time can lead to denial of reality and get in the way of acceptance,” he explains. “It is beneficial to think of both the positive and negative aspects of the situation in a balanced way that weighs both sides.”

Dr. Iskandar says an example of this is if you’re faced with a challenging situation, a balanced thought might be, “This is going to be really hard, and with the right support, I can find a way to make it work.”

[READ: Real stories of strength and resilience show how individuals struggling with mental health and addiction find hope in the face of adversity]

The health benefits of happiness and positive thinking

Did you know feelings of happiness can help improve a person’s health no matter their age?

“The health benefits of happiness for young people can include getting better sleep, decreased stress-level, a boost in self-esteem and lead to being more productive at school and having successful relationships,” says Stretton. “Adults can experience similar health benefits from happiness.”

“There is a strong association between health and happiness, but the association runs in both directions. That is, healthier people tend to be happier, and happier people tend to have better long-term health outcomes,” explains Dr. Iskandar. “People who regularly experience positive emotions like joy, happiness, excitement and enthusiasm tend to have lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems, lower stress, fewer aches and pains, and even a longer life.”

Big time benefits for finding simple moments of happiness in each day, in light of the challenging times we are all facing together.

View more mental health resources for coping during the COVID-19 pandemic

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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