We've got plenty of time to practice these now, but they're also going to give our lives more meaning for the years to come.
I don’t know about you, but for me the pandemic hasn’t been just about washing my hands until they’re raw or living like a hermit. Getting back to basics and working from home has given me the ability to implement some positive habits into my everyday life—a few of which I’ve been trying to master for years without success.
So whenever it is that we fully return to a sense of normalcy, here are the habits that I hope I’ll bring with me. And if you’re not already doing these things, maybe it’s time for you to give them a try, too.
1Talking to my neighbors
In those glorious pre-pandemic days, I would often see my neighbors next door or across the street when I was mowing the lawn, pushing my kids on swings in the backyard, or going back into the house after running an errand. Most of the time, it seemed like a hearty wave or a yelled “Hello!” was a sufficient greeting, and I would move on with the important tasks at hand.
After sheltering-in-place in our home for several months, however, I found myself getting a lot more neighborly. I felt like I was back in time—conversations over the fence with my next-door neighbors, random conversations with people walking their dogs past my driveway, socially distanced encounters on the sidewalk with people from down the street as our family took nightly evening strolls. Our neighborhood — which previously felt like the place we drove through to get to and from our house — is beginning to feel more like a community of people we know. That will no doubt become even more true when we can actually spend some quality time with each other.
2Going outside for physical activity
This one is related, but the aforementioned family strolls, as well as my three-to-four-times-per-week evening runs, have vastly increased the amount of daily time I spend outside. When I was commuting to work, I was far less aware of how much of my day was spent parked at a desk in front of my computer. Now that I spend those same working hours reporting for duty in my basement home office dungeon, I feel every second of it. While I’ve been a casual runner for quite a while in fits and starts, the pandemic has upgraded me to “avid runner” status, and I just don’t feel right on the days when I can’t go outside for a post-work run or walk. When the weather is bad, I even find myself committed to my treadmill now. Incidentally, I’ve also seen improvements to my borderline high blood pressure, appetite, mood, and sleep thanks to this increased exercise.
3Catching up with distant friends
For the majority of the pandemic, one night every week has been set aside for a weekly Zoom call with my wife’s cousin and one of our nieces who live in a different state. We started out calling it a “games night” and would play online games, but these days we usually spend most meetings engrossed in conversation on alternatively mundane and deep topics. It’s become a therapeutic self-care necessity as well as a way to better know these family members on a much deeper level. And it simply never would have happened without the pandemic.
There have been other long-lost friends that I’ve caught up with via Zoom, and we’ve usually agreed that it shouldn’t have taken a dangerous illness sweeping the world for us to use this technology to reconnect. Now that the awkwardness of video chat has been broken for nearly everyone, I hope to continue to catch up with folks I otherwise have lost touch with.
Yes, sometimes it feels like every day of this pandemic is exactly the same as the last one. We might be living in our own personal version of the movie Groundhog Day, but that doesn’t have to make our daily activities less meaningful. To help capture the more memorable moments of this time that will someday be a chapter in our grandchildren’s history books, I downloaded a journaling app on my phone that prompts me each night to write a few lines. As with running, I have journaled in fits and starts throughout my life and always hoped it would catch on permanently. While I have to admit that it still hasn’t become a daily habit, I find that when I can limit myself to writing just one quick anecdote about the day, my success rate goes up. The endless rhythm of pandemic life and the stress of having young children are wreaking havoc on my memory, so I know I’ll someday treasure having even these brief glimpses into everyday life in the time of COVID.
5Honing an attitude of gratitude
The common thread of the habits above is a focus on gratitude—for the people in my life, for my current good health, and for the daily blessings that so often go unnoticed. Practicing gratitude is a habit unto itself, and it takes a lot of practice, especially when life is more complicated or difficult than we might like it to be. Recognizing and thanking God for the gifts He has given us in the midst of our trials helps us to ultimately shift our mindset from a focus on complaining, stress, and negativity to a recognition of the hope, joy, and possibilities of God’s plan for our lives.
Even though it’s the last thing we might want to do, facing yet another pandemic day with a conscious disposition of gratitude can help us to find greater meaning in the monotony and deeper peace in our hearts. The hidden blessing is that we’ve all got plenty of time to start developing this habit right now.