Before being dragged right away into the crazy pace of modern life, let’s pause and take in the learning of this crisis!
As we are talking about ending the lockdown, “going back” to our lives and starting a “new normal”, I want to share some ideas to help you “move forward” rather than “go back”. Your “new normal” will be different from your previous life, not just because the world has changed but also because you changed, and your perception of what’s normal has changed. Here are some ideas to become more aware of what has changed in you and how to best integrate it into your new reality.
The gift of radical changes of circumstances
I was arriving in Las Vegas, at first seeing its high towers from far in the middle of this desertic landscape, and then driving down Las Vegas Strip among luminous signs and billboards, all trying to get my attention for the best casino, show or restaurant. It was the end of an amazing trip, camping and hiking in the National Parks of Utah. I was both excited about going back to society, and at the same time rejecting this new reality.
My peaceful, nature lover self, was not able to take it in, and I was finding myself in shock with everything that was wrong about this artificial, air-conditioned city built in the middle of the desert. My parents were representing these two opposing feelings in myself perfectly. As soon as we took possession of our hotel room, my mom enjoyed a long bubble bath, savoring everything about it in a way that only the experience of two weeks of irregular cold showers can make you truly appreciate, and started to make plans about going for a swim in the hotel pool. On the other side, my dad, usually this calm and naturally content man, was sulking, refusing to leave the hotel room, gazing at the distant landscapes from our 13th floor window, talking just enough to tell how much he hated everything about this place: it was too loud, too hot outside, too cold inside, too busy.
I remember thinking that I could have enjoyed Las Vegas in another context, but at this moment it was just not possible. The drastic change of environment made me see with more clarity than ever some of things are wrong about our society: this vindication for money, gluttony and superficiality were unbearable. Radical changes of circumstances show you a new perspective, making more apparent what you like and what you dislike. It often feels eye-opening and like a reset of what is important. Sometimes it leads to life-changing decisions, but more frequently, after just a couple of days or weeks, we are just back to our previous routine, and nothing has changed.
As we are talking about de-confinement, I recognize the same dual feeling: I am dreaming about getting back together with my friends, even travelling again one day. I know I want to go back to the world. At the same time, I also feel dazed by the whole idea of going back to my previous life. I recognize the same two alternatives: jumping back into the pool, enjoying everything that I like about it, or take time to recognize everything that I don’t like about it, and make a change.
We will adapt
As human beings, we are very adaptive by nature. We are sensitive to changes in conditions but not so sensitive to absolute levels. This process is known in psychology as the hedonist treadmill. And this comes with some good and bad news.
The good news is that you will adapt to the “new normal”, just like you managed to adapt to the lockdown. The bad news is that after first enjoying rediscovering what you missed during the lockdown, you will most likely get used to those things and start considering them as normal again.
To illustrate what I am saying with an example: do you remember the last time you got a bigger TV or a new smartphone with larger screen or a better definition? The chances are high that you were absolutely amazed by it in the first days, and very soon, it just became your new standard, so your level of happiness or satisfaction changed for a short period and then reverted to its natural base line. It will be the case with your new freedom as well: the first time you go and visit a friend or have a dinner in a restaurant will be very special, but as you will be doing it more often, the intense joy and excitement will most likely fade away.
4 steps to make you happier after confinement
So how can you make yourself happier? Bringing these ideas together: the power of radical changes that give us new insights, combined psychology research on adaptation, I would like to suggest the following 4 steps:
1. Realize what has changed. We might like it or not, but this crisis has affected all areas of our external and inner lives: how we interact with others, how we are defining work and home, our relationship with money, with our health, hobbies or physical environment. Radical changes have the power to give you big insights. Take a couple of minutes to realize how much these different aspects of your life changed. Did that make you less happy? What did you really miss? What are the things that you really enjoyed?
2. Take in the lessons. From these insights, take a moment to think about the learning you can take away. What did you hate? What was amazing? What are you learning about yourself?
3. Anchor your motivation. Remind yourself what is important about this learning. What becomes possible? Who are you when you are mastering this learning?
4. Design an action plan and make it last. Write down how you can apply your learnings to your daily life. You are at critical point where you are more aware of what makes you happy, so you can design your life in a way that suits you best.
And here is how you can make it a sustainable change as well: while we adapt quickly to external conditions, activities that you choose to do, and that require effort and attention, don’t disappear from your awareness, so will keep bringing you happiness. So, when designing your new life, plan engage yourself in activities that have the potential to bring you in a state of “flow”. Named by the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, it describes “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seem to matter.” The activity itself doesn’t really matter as long as it is something you love and that’s challenging but not too difficult, so that you can practice being focused on what you are doing. Csikszentmihaly explains: “It is impossible to enjoy a tennis game, a book, or a conversation unless attention is fully concentrated on the activity”.
As I am reading this quote again, I realize that this is probably the most valuable learning I got from this lockdown: I improved my attention span. By removing some of the usual distractions, I have been more focused than in the past, and enjoying much more simple things like baking bread, reading, or writing this article. What was your learning?
 Jonathan Haidt (2006), The happiness hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom  Brickman; Campbell (1971). Hedonic relativism and planning the good society. New York: Academic Press. pp. 287–302. in M. H. Apley, ed., Adaptation Level Theory: A Symposium, New York: Academic Press  Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2009), Flow Theory and Research, The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (2 ed.) and https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_flow_the_secret_to_happiness?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare