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The pandemic has pushed everyone into what feels like—or may actually be—survival mode. But once you have a roof over your head and income to sustain yourself, where should your priorities lie? Vanderbilt University’s Assistant Provost of Experiential Learning, Jill Stratton, Ph.D., believes that everyone should develop consistent practices to foster happiness. In “Strategies to Increase Your Well-Being and Resilience During This Pandemic,” a webinar hosted by NRTA, Stratton breaks down the science through her background in positive psychology.
Happiness seems like a difficult concept to quantify, but the components behind it are rather simple. According to research by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, 50% of your overall happiness comes from your biology and is referred to as your set point. This acts like a certain “baseline,” or where, on average, your emotions are most likely to settle. 40% comes from your intentional actions, and a measly 10% comes from circumstances happening to you. That may seem oddly low, but consider it like this: lottery winners report extremely positive emotions immediately after winning, but within a year, that often settles and they return to their original set point. Likewise, someone struggling with a deeply traumatic event or accident can overcome it with time and go back to how they felt before.
Right now, many circumstances are completely outside of our sphere of control. Despite that, we’re not helpless—Stratton emphasized the importance of building healthy habits to bring about our own happiness. That may mean turning to the fundamentals of quality sleep, exercise, nutrition, and simple pleasures such as going outside or listening to music. Physical health has close ties to mental health, so taking care of your body is a crucial step to improving your well-being. This pandemic is difficult enough as it is, but neglecting the basics will only worsen it.
What follows from there are some actions that, while requiring a bit more effort, are just as helpful. Our connections with others are important, so even during social distancing, take the time to check on friends and family. It can be easy to let weeks and months slip by without a single conversation, but it only takes a few minutes to send a quick text or email. Everyone is struggling in some way, so approaching them with an open, empathetic ear may be enough to help them through it. In your own life, this can also be a time to start practicing gratitude. This could be in the form of a gratitude journal or sharing one good thing that happened at the dinner table. We tend to zero in on the negative parts of our lives, so writing down three positive events a day can drastically improve our health. Professor Robert Emmons, one of the lead scholars on gratitude, found that practicing gratitude can lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, negate feelings of loneliness, and help to develop a sense of joy and optimism.
If you’ve spent the last few months overlooking some of these practices, it may seem overwhelming to jump right into major life changes at once. For this, Stratton recommends a specific action plan: decide on one thing to do today, one thing to do this week, and one thing to do this month. For some, that may look like sitting down with their favorite novel, and for others, it may mean waking up earlier to go for a walk. In the end, though, each step, no matter how small, moves in the right direction. Any positive practice will help you take care of yourself and build your overall well-being in a time when we need it the most.