The current crisis around Covid-19 is a challenge — but also a chance

In the current time, our priorities have been shifting like tectonic plates during an earthquake. Goals that seemed important and desirable to us a few weeks ago — professional success, the planned vacation, the next purchase — feel oddly distant. Many are concerned about their financial situation and how the next rent should be paid, because the shutdown of the economy makes short-time work and layoffs a new reality. Things that we took for granted and that we only subconsciously perceive in developed countries — survival, food, security — suddenly appear in our consciousness and we discover an unknown fear of losing them.

A new consciousness

On the other hand, this new consciousness urges us to think about our existence more consciously. From hundreds of conversations we had at zentor with people about purpose and fulfillment in life and from happiness research, we know that many have been doubting for a while — even before Covid-19 — whether our existence still fits to our Self.

Successfully promoted managers wonder where they will find the promised happiness on their endless career ladders. Parents on parental leave ask themselves how to find back into a professional world if their focus of life has long been determined by their children. People who lose their job doubt whether they will some day will find a profession instead of yet another gig. People transitioning into retirement wonder who they are, when their work ends, which defined their identity, recognition and social network.

The triggers for these deep reflections are mostly individual phases of life and transitions. However, the Corona Virus now seems to push us into a new phase of collective reflection on the essential things in life.

Collective reflection

Humans tend to look for purpose especially in very difficult phases. And maybe many of us just haven’t had a really life-threatening phase for a long time, which reminded us of being human and grounding us in the here and now. How does the status of my job help me, if the tasks it entails make me deeply unhappy? Why do I need more money when I have enough to survive, and when more money means less time with my family and loved ones?

How do I find my way back to myself when I’ve replaced my Self with symbols?

The threat of the virus sends us on a new search for purpose in work and private life; restrictions to leave the house let us ache for human connection & appreciation and lets us miss activities in which we can fully engage again.

However, despite the challenges, these difficult times might also be a great opportunity to re-focus on our mental health and on a more sustainable society. From ancient philosophy to positive psychology we know that exactly these three themes — purpose, appreciation, engagement — are the three main sources for a fulfilling and happy life and an essential basis for a more sustainable society.

A lesson in human psyche

When we recognize the suffering of other people, we feel our humanity beyond our (mostly cherished) rationality, we experience compassion and eventually relief when we are not affected. But this crisis due to Corona is different. Not only do media outlets confront us with seemingly worse news on a daily basis, this time there is also no relief that we aren’t affected. Because in one way or another, we all are. A significant part of the world’s population will likely fall ill (depending on how the race between vaccine development and virus spread turns out) and death will be a more present fear in our everyday life for a while. Rules to #flattenthecurve already turn our social life upside down and the effects on the economy will last for years to come, threatening the existence of so many.

We cannot hope for relief soon; instead we are worried that we may soon be off worse. This worry currently manifests itself in funny absurdities like the hoarding of toilet paper (especially in Germany — please don’t ask me why, though game theory plays a role…), but unfortunately also in an increase in divorce rates and domestic violence in cramped spaces on one hand and suicide due to social isolation on the other.

At the same time, doctors, nurses and researchers all over the world do everything to protect and preserve human lives; Entrepreneurs are converting their production to be able to supply scarce goods such as protective clothing and disinfectants free of charge; Neighbors help others; and from open windows sound music or grateful applause. Our images of mankind and work are changing. This holds true for the current Corona crisis, but might equally become relevant again during upcoming extreme weather events and other ­medical, geopolitical, or financial crises.

In these crazy times, we can observe the true face of people and the resilience of a society

Change of perspective

The past few weeks feel surreal. It is also unlikely that we will be going back to a previously considered ‘normal’ reality anytime soon. Covid-19 forces us to recalibrate our habits, assumptions, our way of living, and maybe even our identity. Things we expect and have taken for granted are no longer.

Our expectations have turned into hope

And that may be a good thing, because high expectations are often disappointed when encountering reality, which make us feel unhappy. Hope, on the other hand, is less linked to a fulfilling life, since hope is less specific and less dependent on time. We don’t ‘expect’ that, which we hope for, to be granted, but rather understand it as a stroke of fortune (I might expect a promotion in 3 months, but I hope everything goes well…).

It is in our nature that our expectations raise by themselves if we are off well for a long time — we quickly get used to the comforts of our life. If now, due to the crisis, parts of our high expectations turn into hopes, it enables us to be more grateful for what we have — and thus to live a more hopeful and fulfilling life. If we also manage to complement this hope with a trust in ourselves that we will eventually be able to master this crisis, we lay the cornerstone for a more positive perspective on our future.

Time for new thing

Psychologists call the belief to be able to impact our fate through our own strength ‘self-efficacy’. Self-efficacy gives us the chance during a crisis to embrace a new perspective for our future, instead of looking back at the past longingly.

We can use the restrictions on our daily life, our current stress and worries to focus on what really matters in life — abandoning old habits, questioning outdated assumptions and looking for the core of ourselves. The easiest way to approach this, is by doing something meaningful that allows us to experience the core of our Self and contributes to a fulfilling life. We know from happiness research that the most effective way to find a meaningful thing to do is by employing your signature strengths for a cause that transcends you. Writing a book for others, learning a valuable new language or skill, starting a virtual music band, helping others, philanthropy, etc. The nice side effect would be that you also have less time to spend on Netflix, social media, or the news.

The best time to look for a new thing to start, challenge or project is now!

It is paradoxical to assume that we need peace and quiet to re-calibrate ourselves — on the contrary, we need emotional turmoil and ideally some form of ‘suffering’ to be able to face tough questions relating to our core Self and our identity. Calm and relaxation would make us to too lazy or comfortably numb. If I may try an analogy: The most beautiful works of art and greatest achievements did not arise from someone sitting around idle and bored but were born out of either suffering or euphoria.

Especially during times, when home office, financial worries, and tension in cramped homes (or in social isolation) challenge our sanity, it is time to ask ourselves what our life should be like after the crisis. We should do that before we fall back into an old routine. It is time to find a new routine and things to do that truly reflect who we are, our strengths and identity. And it doesn’t matter whether this is a professional reorientation, a side project, or a new hobby.

However, in approaching this project, I recommend to keep in mind the three main sources for a fulfilling life from happiness research: to seek purpose in what you do, to find something to fully engage in, and to foster appreciation for or from others.

If you’re interested, our zentor purpose platform already features several meaningful ideas, tasks and projects that you could participate in. It also allows you to easily set up your own idea as a project, to find others to join and coordinate the project. We’ve decided to make our platform free of charge for all private customers, in order to facilitate a change of perspective towards a more fulfilling life. Maybe you’d like to have a look at our purpose platform?

Some suggested links/ literature for further reading

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash