At the risk of sounding trite, I’ll say it: it’s funny how quickly things can change.
For most of us in the U.S., the way our lives were shaped only a matter of weeks ago looks immeasurably different from the form they take today. Two weeks ago, I had plans. Today, I’m on my 12th day of quarantining alongside my roommate in our tiny Brooklyn apartment, in the borough with the most coronavirus outbreaks in the city, in the city with the most outbreaks in the country. There's a lot I have to be grateful for; for starters, I'm employed, young and without existing health conditions, putting me at considerably less risk than others. Not having children, too, means that I'm spared from the challenges so many parents are currently facing. But, suffice it to say, this current situation was still not part of my Capital-P Plan.
Uncertainty is something most of us are deeply, uncomfortably in touch with right now, and there’s truthfully no telling when that will change, as the pandemic’s continued health and economic consequences loom large. And yet, in reality — or, I should say, in pre-New Normal reality — certainty was only ever something most of us had a tenuous relationship with anyway.
I don’t say that to downplay the severity of our global situation; its terrifying seriousness is a given. But sitting exclusively with that seriousness won’t help us. Nothing is ever wholly good or wholly bad, and the reasons to be hopeful that out of this crisis will emerge a more just, equal version of society are, from where I’m sitting, abundant.
In the meantime, finding joy on the micro and individual level matters. A lot. Not only will it help boost our emotional and psychological resilience, making us better prepared to deal with the days ahead, positive emotions are proven to increase physical resiliency, too. One 2006 study found that for individuals infected with influenza and rhinovirus, those with positive emotions were likelier to fight off their symptoms. Meanwhile, those who registered low for positive emotions were nearly three times as likely to contract a respiratory illness.
We owe it to ourselves to try and find reasons to stay joyful, no matter how troubling these times are. Here are 27 simple ways I’m cultivating joy myself.
1. FaceTime a friend.
I used to low-key hate FaceTime — mostly because it requires a certain stillness, and I'd rather be making calls while On the Go, moving about freely like the fully mobile person I once was — but boy, has my stance changed.
2. FaceTime a bunch of friends.
Get creative with the assemblage of folks you're video calling, too. Now could be the perfect time for that overdue catchup with your study abroad friends.
3. Go for a walk.
Even if you're quarantined, walks (with the proper precautions and social distancing in place!) are permissible and, from a mental and physical health standpoint, encouraged.
4. Sing in the shower.
To everyone in my building who caught my soaring rendition of Cher's "Believe" last night, but mostly to my roommate Zoe, you're welcome.
5. Drink coffee s l o w l y.
Super slowly. Like, at a glacial pace.
6. Leave your phone in another room.
There's a flip side to all the joyful connectivity of FaceTime: namely, feeling totally besieged by screens. Try leaving your cell in the next room for awhile and feel a little freer.
7. Watch something utterly bizarre.
The "Tiger King" on Netflix is filling this need for me. Stream it and your life, even now, will instantly feel banal in comparison.
8. Read something that reassures you.
Alternate take: make a towering stack of these books and tell yourself that you're going to read them all whilst quarantined. Repeat this delusion daily until this is all over.
9. Order in dessert.
Order from a local business that's continuing to offer delivery, and give your delivery person as big a tip as you can afford!
10. Dress up.
I'm continuing to wear "real" clothes every day, since preserving my morning get-ready routine makes me feel more normal. But you can get creative with the meaning of this. Wear a full-on gown if you want to.
11. Dress down.
There's no time like the present for pantlessness, if that's more your speed.
12. Instead of the news, put on a playlist first thing in the morning.
Staying up-to-date is important, but so is giving your mind room to breathe. Let the first thing you consume in a day be something that makes you feel good; the stressful stuff can come later.
Or, if you have time, take a yoga class or otherwise virtually work out. So many sites are streaming classes for free right now!
14. Check in with your neighbors.
What you have to share with each other won't always be positive or make you feel joyful, no doubt. But building a sense of community with those around you is important.
15. Cook something you normally wouldn’t have the time to.
Let it simmer. I don't actually cook. But whatever you're choosing to make, I imagine the word "simmer" somehow applies.
16. Do absolutely nothing, for however long you want or are able to.
17. Start a virtual book club.
Or take the book club you're already in online.
18. Take a dance break.
Take as many of them as you can, including during that 15-minute break you have between meetings.
19. Write a letter.
Yes, we know that the F. Scott Fitzgerald quarantine letter making the rounds online is fake, but it's still nice pen pal inspo.
20. Breathe deeply.
Most of the breaths we take are super shallow ones. If meditation isn't your jam (it isn't mine), some simple breathwork — in through your nose, out through your mouth — can still work wonders.
21. Share what you have.
Whether it's hand sanitizer, toilet paper or groceries, if you have more than you need — share it.
Leave (sanitized!) care packages for your neighbors. Set out extra supplies for the delivery people coming to your door. Know a teacher or health care worker? Ask how you can help them. If you're unsure who to help in your immediate community, make a donation to organizations like Meals on Wheels or the Center for Disaster Philanthropy's COVID-19 Response Fund, or find a local initiative.
22. Ask someone else to help you.
Being open to receiving help from others is always a Grade A source of connection and joy, and that's even truer now.
23. Repot a plant.
If you're a city dweller, it's easy to forget how good sticking your hands into dirt and growing something feels. (I lasted not even one full summer in my neighborhood's community garden, for the record, but being from the South lets me believe I have authority here.) If you live somewhere other than a city, maybe now's the time for that yard work you've been putting off, or simply walk outside barefoot.
24. Collage something.
Have old magazines sitting around?
25. Do one thing extra well.
Whether it's a project at work or something as simple as making your bed, it sounds corny, but give at least one thing 110% of your effort. You'll feel better about your day overall.
26. Take a bath.
Take so many baths. Do all of the things listed above while in the bath.
27. Be gentle with yourself.
No amount of positive thinking will change the fact that what we're dealing with right now is terrifying and unprecedented. If you're scared or overwhelmed, it makes sense that you'd be. Try not to engage with the kind of self-talk that forces certain expectations or standards of behavior on yourself ("I won't let this get to me," etc.). Be generous with yourself. Get enough sleep. Drink water. And stay home.