I need to preface this article by acknowledging that I have no training in psychology, therapy, life-coaching or positive thinking. I am not educated beyond a high school diploma and any thoughts, ideas, or advice should be taken with a grain of salt.
Joy is a strange component in my life. I have been a comedian since I was 17 years old. I make my living by getting strangers to laugh and enjoy themselves. Yet I have battled depression my entire life. (This is not an uncommon condition among people in the comedy business.)
Comics are joy carriers and spreaders, but we don’t suffer from the ‘disease’. My own happiness comes about vicariously through the enjoyment of my audiences. Hearing them laugh at my jokes works on my own endorphins at the same time it elevates theirs. Similarly, Beethoven could not hear his own music but still got the thrill of knowing it was inspirational to the listeners who could hear it.
It is essentially the appreciation of being appreciated that drives my self-esteem and happiness. Sadly, due to pandemic closures, there are no clubs open, and I am painfully empty without the sound of laughter to remind me that I have value.
I cannot get any satisfaction from performances on Zoom or other virtual communication apps because there is no real feedback. It’s like a car battery trying to move a vehicle with no return charge from the engine. It simply does not satisfy the hunger that real live laughter does.
I am aware that this is a bit of a strange opening for an article in a publication about bliss, but I promise I’m getting somewhere with all this.
These are strange and frustrating times.
COVID and its accompanying fear of illness, lockdowns, and strain on our medical system are challenging people’s emotions and patience in an unprecedented way. Work and play are impacted, and it is nearly impossible to make plans. Any activity or occasion that would normally be anticipated with excitement has become an anxiety-provoking concern that leaves one wondering how much preparation to do since there is every chance it will not end up happening.
Trips, outings, and dinner with friends are all off the table. The walls of our homes and the contents of our refrigerators are becoming too familiar, and it’s starting to feel like we’ve seen everything on the world wide web, as ridiculous as that notion sounds.
Even the friends who are normally positive and centred are fraying and un-balancing as the uncertainty goes on well past the point anyone could have anticipated when this began so long ago.
Again, I encourage you to keep reading. This is all a preamble to something that has helped me through and may do the same for you.
Since I tend to focus on the negative even in the best times, I am uniquely qualified to deal with actual crises.
Unlike the optimistic, I am not thrown by sad events. They only affirm my general view of life as being harsh and unforgiving. That’s not to say that I’m gratified by sad tidings, but I am never surprised. In a funny way, unfortunate events at least give me a reason to feel down. When life is good and I get a bout of depression, I feel extra angry at myself because I know I have no excuse for my sadness. But during trying times, I can at least justify my feelings. It seems counterintuitive, but at least actual problems are an enemy I can see to fight, whereas depression is an un-punchable opponent.
It’s human nature to focus on what’s missing.
This is built into our DNA and it has a purpose; dissatisfaction leads to action, which leads to improving the situations we don’t like. Humanity’s leaps forward would never have happened without somebody coming up with a solution to a perceived problem.
Whereas birds today live in exactly the same fashion that birds have always lived, human day-to-day life is so different now than it was even a century ago that our world would seem like another planet to someone from the past who was dropped here today.
Improving our situation is our driving impulse, but it also carries a huge emotional cost in terms of enjoying the here and now, because we’re never really satisfied. No matter how much progress we make, we will still feel like things are not as good as they should be.
Experts in the pursuit of happiness and goal fulfilment will say that comparing one’s situation to others is a terrible idea and will lead to doubt and unhappiness. Ironically, it is doing this that has most lifted my spirits during these turbulent times.
Although I’m trapped and missing my work and social life, I cannot help but be grateful when I compare my situation to many others. My blessings are uncountable and include more than enough food, comfortable shelter, and access to vaccines. That alone makes me one of the most privileged people on the planet. When that is not enough, I think back in time. This is not the first pandemic ever, just the first in our lifetime.
The Black Death wiped out a huge percentage of the population of Europe. They did not have any understanding of germs, infection, hygiene, or any of the basic principles that help keep infections from spreading, let alone advanced medicine to treat and cure those infections.
Moving forward in time we get to the Spanish Flu, which spread after WWI. It was less devastating but still terrible. They dealt with it in many of the same ways we are dealing with our pandemic now; they isolated, wore masks, and waited it out.
Here is the key difference that makes me grateful.
Thanks to humanity’s technological leaps of the last hundred years, isolation today means that I am still able to talk to all the people in my circle in several ways; telephone, email, instant messaging, and video chat mean that we can stay in touch, even if we can’t physically be together.
Imagine 1918, when there were only the people in your own house to converse with. Even a next-door neighbour was unreachable; forget relatives across town or far away. Imagine the hours of the day we now spend keeping up with news and entertainment. Every tune ever recorded is available at the touch of a button. Movies and TV are viewable on-demand 24 hours a day. Food from around the world can be ordered and delivered. In 1918, a fireplace would have been a luxury and a piano was the entertainment centre.
Sometimes, comparing one’s situation with what was is a tremendous lift to the spirits. It is what keeps me from sliding into despair and reminds me that this, in spite of how it feels compared to our pre-pandemic lives, might be bliss.