For the past couple of decades, we have been hyperfocused on “happiness.” What it is, how to find it, who has it, how they got it, and where can I get mine? Is it meditation, visualization, diet, exercise, therapy, journaling, creating — and yes, all of these help, but right now, I don’t think there’s any way to manufacture happiness when there is so much going wrong in our world.

Millions of books have been sold and digested by consumers and psychologists alike, all trying, and most failing, to feel the happiness factor that they have been told they so richly deserve. The real truth is that no one deserves to be happy, and some people are always going to be happier than others. But right now, until this pandemic is truly over, people need to put their personal search for happiness on hold and adjust their expectations. We all just need to survive, and that takes cooperation.

Going out makes people happy, socializing makes people happy, not wearing a mask makes people happy — you get the idea. For some, protesting or counterprotesting makes them happy, and a few folks aren’t even sure which side, if any, they are on — they just want to be involved. Why? Because it makes them happy to be part of something larger than they are. This is human nature.

With the division in our country, the economic meltdown, and thousands dying daily, the only thing that is happy right now is the coronavirus, as it spreads to every corner of our nation. Sadly, we are failing to take what’s happening — and what we should have learned from the 1918 pandemic — seriously enough, because this one is following the same curve; they never really got out of the first wave either.

Science tells us that this is not going away anytime soon, despite what some political leaders have to say. I prefer to listen to people like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who know what they’re talking about.

Those who are saying the virus is a hoax and will disappear are selling snake oil. What they aren’t saying is that the exact opposite is equally possible: COVID-19 may never go away but will just stick around like the annual flu. Our current leader did say we would have to learn to live (or die?) with it, and so it’s up to each of us to find our way, and that’s pretty hard with all this going on.

In addition, because of our insatiable need and endless quest to be happy, we really messed up containing this virus when we had the chance. People who can’t stay home, who have to party, and who simply don’t care, are acting out of some kind of disconnect with reality. Either that or we have become so incredibly selfish and self-delusional that we actually believe it will go away if we pretend it isn’t here, and that’s just stupid.

So here’s what this psychotherapist thinks: Follow the health and safety guidelines to the letter, and if go a little further by finding some way to pay it forward, that will make you a little happier. If you feel safe, that too will lighten your emotional toll, and if you don’t feel safe, then honor that and find a way to get that very basic need met.

You are not wrong, bad, or a loser because you are not feeling happy right now (or ever for that matter). It could be said that those who are not aware of the incredible pain and fear our country and the world is feeling right now are the insensitive ones. This will not be fun, but your job is to survive — having a good time and feeling happy again will come later if you just do that.


(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith


©2020 Barton Goldsmith

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