It's Important - and OK - to be Happy During the Pandemic


It might seem difficult to be happy in the midst of a pandemic. But Cassie Mogilner Holmes, associate professor of behavioral decision making in the UCLA Anderson School of Management, says it’s not only possible, but it is essential.

“It’s actually more important now than ever to focus on our personal emotional health,” Holmes said during a UCLA Connections Zoom presentation hosted by UCLA Strategic Communications.

“Happiness increases motivation, creativity and our problem solving, as we figure out how to live and work in this quarantine environment and manage our stresses and anxiety,” Holmes said. “Also, when people are happier, they are nicer.”

In case you’re wondering, Holmes said it’s also perfectly OK to allow yourself to be happy at a time when people are ill and out of work.

Being happy is healthy, Holmes said, and it helps us be in a frame of mind to help others.

So how do we achieve happiness in a difficult time? It’s as simple as breathing — literally — Holmes said. She called anxiety a future-focused emotion, so it’s important to keep your mind in the present.

That’s also where meditation can help, she said. Meditation allows you to focus on your breathing and pulls your attention away from anxiety-provoking thoughts. “It calms you, keeps your mind from wandering, and it’s been empirically shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and to boost mood,” Holmes said.

Holmes offered these additional tips to help achieve happiness:

Move around a bit: Even just 30 minutes of movement a day — it could be yoga, it could be moderate exercise — has been shown to reduce stress, boost mood, improve cognizant functioning and increase one’s sense of self-efficacy.

Maintain structure in your day: Be diligent in how you spend your day. Begin with a morning routine, whether you’re leaving the house or not. If you’re working from home, set up a place in your house that is the designated workspace. When you go to that spot in the morning, it communicates to you and others that this is the start of your work day.

But just as important, make sure you structure breaks from work. “Given that work and personal life are happening in the same space,” Holmes said, “make sure to set up time for breaks away from your computer.”

Take a vacation in your mind: Maybe you missed out on a family vacation due to the pandemic. While there may be a sense of loss, it doesn’t have to mean you can’t still have that vacation feeling. “We found in our research that some of the benefits of vacation don’t actually require getting on an airplane and going somewhere,” Holmes said.

In experiments, some subjects were told to treat their weekends like a vacation, and not given instructions about what exactly a vacation should be. Others were told to treat the weekend as a regular weekend. On Monday, the “vacationing” group returned to work happier. “The mindset shift played out to influence people’s enjoyment throughout the weekend,” Holmes said.

Stay connected: Holmes said social connection — feeling connected to people in our life and having a sense of belonging — is the most important ingredient to being happy now, and in general. We’re physically distancing, but we don’t have to socially distance.

“Thank goodness for technology during this crisis,” Holmes said. It’s important to communicate with friends and loved ones. “We are able to connect, and it’s important to reach out and do this,” Holmes said.