May you live in interesting times — apocryphal Chinese curse

Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true — attributed to Aesop

Every cloud has a silver lining — annoying proverb attributed to John Milton

This shut down is a disaster. And there is worse to come as the subsequent economic impact will be really, really bad; maybe even catastrophic. What good can come from all this? Don’t worry, things will get better. It’s not as bad as it seems. It won’t last forever. Just focus on the positive. When life gives you lemons?

All this false positivity and optimism is exhausting and annoying. Unfortunately, psychology has clearly demonstrated that your attitude (i.e., your POSITIVE attitude) has a powerful influence on how well you weather difficulties. So in the service of fostering a more positive, optimistic mindset in the middle of this pandemic, let’s review some of the terrible effects of the shutdown and search for the silver lining.   

Upending your preexisting lifestyle can become simplifying your life. All of a sudden things became simpler in the middle of all the complications. Simple family dinners became “date nights.” Going for a simple family walk or bike ride replaced all the thrashing about associated with expensive travel and movies out. And, suddenly, simple became more accessible, more normalized. It is OK to want to do less. Like a pause in music, we have all probably on some level needed this.

Locked into the house with your kids can become a time to reconnect as a family. This recipe for chaos was a hugely stressful and disruptive aspect of the shutdown. But, then, after everyone began to settle in, you were finally able to do what many of us have been saying we wanted (way before the pandemic): more time with your family. You actually became reacquainted with your children. Teens were actually out on walks with their parents! (Horrors!) There were conversations happening. There were family activities occurring (since your teen couldn’t escape the house to be with friends). Yes there were also arguments and whining. What’s new?

Having your priorities turned on their head can become reassessing your priorities. Work (i.e., making money to live) is an important priority. Priorities are often determined by going with the flow of the priority that came before (or the next expense). Rugs were pulled out from under us right and left. We have been laid off or lost customers. We are working from home. Our (paid) work hours have been reduced. But, this pause revealed the priorities that were underlying these decisions. And many of us find them wanting. What do you really want to do with your life? What really matters? This crisis is a pivotal moment for many; an opportunity to reassess and get really honest about what is most important to you in life. We are experiencing a terrifying, screeching halt that requires a reassessment of true values that in 10 years may be seen as a blessing rather than a curse. Many of us have not stopped long enough to listen to ourselves about what we really want out of life. During this pause, we are having more connecting conversations with the ones we love in our lives and experiencing hard realities of changes that need to happen in order to live a life aligned with what truly matters to us. 

Predetermined schedules broken apart by the shutdown can become a time to slow down and smell the roses. There was no time for anything. We filled our time with the “necessary” activities and obligations. When all that productive activity stopped abruptly, many families began to notice that the world is filled with humor and love and beauty and (pleasant) surprise; things that was missed while racing through the drive through on the way to your kid’s soccer practice. It is in the slowing down that we actually speed up the process of true connection. In using our five senses, we have a moment of mindfulness that connects us to the universe, the divine, to a greater intelligence. Finding the blessing in the storm is an art and there are blessings all around if you can look in the right places. And, isn’t it interesting we have all been searching for a way to slow down?

Focusing on how bad things were can become a recognition that things could be worse. How much time did you spend being frustrated and unhappy about those annoyances and minor problems before the shutdown? Well, that really got thrown into perspective. And, while there are ways to deal effectively with adversity, at the very least it does make your previous problems look insignificant by comparison. Most of us have a negativity bias. The shutdown and fishbowl experience has forced us to look at ourselves square in the face and take stock of the life we are actually living. It may well require us to cut the fat (maybe to the bone for some of us) and get back to basics. It’s not all bad. How you view a situation has a powerful influence on how it turns out.

Just rolling along as before can become actively choosing the direction of your life. The shutdown has created a break that provides an opportunity to actually decide how you want to spend your time (and live your life). We get so trapped in automatic mode. One thing is linked to another by a chain whose links seemingly just appear rather than being the result of adding each link intentionally. There is a lot of reconsideration of how we spend our time happening all around us. Old sheets are being cut up for kitchen rags. Homemade forts are being constructed out of PVC pipes and leftover crap from the garage. Sibling are teaching each other how to knit from YouTube. Kids are learning how to cook from scratch, picking up a foreign language or spending time in deep thought. Feels kinda like the ’70s and ’80s. Who’s in for some cherry Kool-Aid and a Chico-Stick.

The same old routine can become a time to make a change. Routines are a very efficient cognitive mechanism. You don’t have to go through the effort of making decisions. Disruptions are minimized. But, what if your routine isn’t satisfying? What if your routine is based on outdated priorities or interests? What if your routine is unhealthy? The shutdown has led to a profound interruption of routines. A space has opened up for making that change you have been thinking about. Letting go of the old makes room for the new. On some level, we were on a train we didn’t know how to get off of. Families, for the first time in years, are connecting in simple yet profound ways and counting the cost of what their old lives took from them. This is a new door we have walked through that on a deeper level is exciting to see, because we can’t go back and we can’t change our new reality.

Having all your time filled with necessities can become trying new things. Now is the time to try something new. What we thought was necessary has turned out to be not so much (and some necessities are no longer available). Families are playing music together to pass the time. They are learning new recipes; calling grandma and grandpa more often. Parents have more time to tinker around, go for hikes with their kids or sit and have a cup of coffee with their spouse instead of commuting. Families are having to sit in the mucky uncomfortableness of realizing they don’t’ know how to communicate. They are becoming willing to learn or change or ask for help. It’s glaringly obvious when something isn’t working especially when staying the same is no longer an option.

Bad habits that were hidden in the way life used to be can become forming healthier lifestyles. Ever notice how bad habits hang out in the established structure of your life? Having that structure shattered while being stuck with other people 24/7 makes it hard to ignore those bad habits that have been bugging you (and the people around you). The shutdown has provided an incentive (and, of course, an opportunity) to develop more healthy habits. Your mind has the time to rest and think things through. This can be seen as the “Great Reset.” Looking through the lens of inevitable change may help pull your brain into the realm of growth and possibility. Some of the most inspirational inventions have been created in times of great change and catastrophe.

Letting things slide because there isn’t enough time in the day can become healthier limit setting. Saying the word “no” has never been this easy. “No, we can’t go on vacation with your friend.” “No, we can’t go to dinner with that family we don’t gel with.” “No, you can’t add another activity to your life.” “No, you can’t get on screens right now.” Creating space for nothingness can open the way for new meaning, new relationships, new opportunities and a new season of life you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

Arranging for others to care for your child can become being a central influence in your child’s life. Parents transmit important values and perspective while just being with their children. Telling stories about your grandmother’s experience your children may never have heard before. Sitting and playing a game of checkers or chess or Clue becomes a memory embanked in your kid’s mind that helps you realize you were making raising a family a bit too complicated. Sometimes simple speaks heart volumes. Sometimes, less is more.

Being part of an “every person for themselves” society can become a realization of how much we depend on each other. Great damage is done when we think people are unnecessary. The ways we are interdependent on each other has become devastatingly clear. We cannot make it on our own. We have all become willing to learn how to connect in ways just a few months ago seemed ridiculous. Virtual church? That would never work. Virtual events? Isn’t that for lazy people? Or, maybe, it works beautifully and we needed a big shake up to try something new; new ways to be a community. 

Opportunities for growth and renewal are all around us. Don’t get distracted by all that is lost or missing. Keep your eyes open for the possibilities for simple moments of joy and the fulfillment that comes from being fully present with those you love. 

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