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5 Tips from a Harvard professor for being happy despite the pandemic


Shutterstock | Dean Drobot

Dolors Massot - Matthew Green - published on 05/04/21

Safeguard your mental health with these proven suggestions.

Tal Ben-Shahar is a “happiness guru.” Unlike some authors who publish self-help books with dubious qualifications at best, Ben-Shahar is a psychologist who has been growing in worldwide recognition while working as a professor at Harvard University.

Channeling negative feelings

The pandemic has kept psychology professionals busier than ever. Ben-Shahar addressed the situation in an interview with Spanish news outlet ABC, as well as in an interview with the JUF News. He explains that this new global situation deserves a response that rises to the occasion.

The first thing he recommends to ABC is that we “give ourselves permission to be human” in the face of difficulty. This means facing our own reactions with compassion, embracing our emotions—even the difficult and uncomfortable ones. We need to work through them and let them take their course, not suppress them or deny them.

To channel those negative feelings, he proposes a few avenues. One possibility is to write down our feelings in a diary. Another is to open up about our feelings and experiences to a friend or someone else we can trust. Tears can also be a natural and healthy part of this process, he says.

We need to give ourselves permission to need these outlets and use them. He tells JUF News, “The paradox is that to fulfill our potential for happiness, we must allow in unhappiness.”

Giving thanks

For Ben-Shahar, these are times when it’s important to be grateful and not to withdraw into ourselves and our own pain. When asked by JUF News what profile of person is most likely to cope with this crisis, he replies, “A person who is generally more grateful, who, be it in good times or tough times, is able to appreciate the good things in life.”

For example, he suggests taking a couple of minutes daily, perhaps early in the morning or at the end of the day, to write down some things for which we feel grateful. There’s always something positive, great or small, he says. This exercise will help us appreciate and value the light amidst the shadows.

Doing physical exercise

A third tip that can help us be happy is to take care of our physical health. Ben-Shahar specifically suggests that it helps to exercise. It can be as simple as walking 30 minutes outdoors.

For those who are quarantined at home, he suggests participating in one of the many high-intensity training or HIIT practices available online. Physical exercise has more than physical benefits. He tells JUF News, “Exercise does not just make us physically tougher; it significantly contributes to our psychological toughness.”

Spend quality time with those you care about

The question on many people’s minds during this pandemic is whether screens can replace in-person contact with other people. Is it worthwhile?

Ben-Shahar tells JUF News, “Spending quality time with people you care about and who care about you is always important; it is especially important now.”

He emphasizes that interacting with people through a screen does not have the same positive effects on a psychological and physiological level as normal in-person face-to-face interactions. Whenever possible, he says to ABC, we should “disconnect (from technology) to connect (with people).”

Nevertheless, he tells JUF News, “If actual get-togethers are not possible, then virtual get-togethers will do.”

Distract yourself

The last recommendation he makes to JUF News is possibly the easiest: “Seek out distractions.” He explains that thinking about the virus all the time, day and night, is “unhealthy and unhelpful.”

Consequently, he advocates for engaging in a hobby, listening to music, watching TV we enjoy, or playing games with family and friends. So if you were feeling guilty about racking up hours of streaming on Neflix or whatever your preferred platform is, unless you’ve gone to the point of neglecting your duties, that’s one less thing you should worry about!

CoronavirusMental Health
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