Happiness in the Time of Covid? Part 2

‘Things will get better. Tomorrow will be a good day’
Sir Tom Moore on 1/10/20

Inspirational 100 year old ‘Captain Tom’ Moore who’s raised over £30 million for the NHS

Older people are not despairing!

Part 1 reported that ‘Perennials’ are bearing up much better than others during this pandemic. But why?

We are the most vulnerable but..

I’m not a Pollyanna  I know that the risk of a severe illness, or worse, rises with age. This virus relentlessly discriminates against the elderly; older people have suffered enormously, lost their lives, or watched a loved one do so.

And many who’ve escaped the virus have still been badly affected due to their personal circumstances. Uncertainty is extremely stressful. Each one of us one has suffered loss of some kind. Many did not see their grandchildren, who bring huge joy to their lives, for months. Loneliness and isolation have increased. And older people have fewer years ahead than behind them, so time is more limited and precious.

But despite 2020 being such a tough year, I still believe…. 

…most of us are relatively lucky

We have a great deal going for us, including the ‘U Curve of Happiness’ (covered in my last blog) that found we become happier in later life.
We are more resilient, increasingly grateful and appreciative of the ‘here and now’. We gain a greater perspective of what’s important. Our good, bad and ugly life experiences have taught us much, including acceptance of what we cannot control and the fact that even the bad times come to an end.

As well as these advantages helping us to cope, I think we’re luckier – even with Covid and our greater vulnerability – than those in midlife or younger. You may disagree, or have other views, but here are my thoughts as to why.

● As fewer of us over 65 are working (although not always through choice), we have less anxiety over careers and job security, and fewer financial difficulties than those now working reduced hours or unemployed – all the more serious if there’s a family to support. 

● Most older people have not had their education affected or had the stress of combining home schooling, working from home and perhaps also caring for elderly parents. Despite the joys of increased family time, coping with young children 24/7, often in far from ideal conditions, is challenging. It’s far easier being a grandparent.

● We’ve missed family and friends, hugs and touch, a holiday, our hairdressers, going to the pub or eating out, culture and more. But I think deprivations have generally had a worse impact on younger generations – well, maybe excepting hairdressers!

● With less responsibilities (especially if retired) and more free time we’re able to do more of what we enjoy, including bingeing on biscuits and Box Sets, decluttering, or simply slowing down and having an afternoon nap.

● Lockdown enabled us to take up, indulge, or return to, hobbies and interests, from gardening (if lucky enough to have one), DIY, and creative activities, to cycling and walking. Of course, physical activity is great for both physical and mental health, and we do need to nourish and give to ourselves too. Self-care is very important, especially now, so being a little selfish and spoiling ourselves shouldn’t make us feel guilty. Bring on a daily slice (or two) of cake!

Stunning Kew Gardens – a haven of peace and beauty these past months.

Starting to ‘sing’ with Open Age (happily for others, I’m muted); doing Zoom ballet classes and dancing in my local park; creating this website; enjoying our small garden and larger, uncrowded Kew Gardens; and watching all three seasons of the TV series ‘The Marvellous Mrs Maisel’ with a glass, or more, of wine; all these, and more, have brought me joy. There are also many things I’m grateful for, such as my family, keeping well, reconnecting with old friends – and not queuing at the Post Office for missed deliveries, as we’re always at home.

● Far more older people are embracing digital technology for the first time and are now able to communicate with friends and family, access services, watch cultural events, or take part in online activities. For example, members at Open Age have reported how much online classes have contributed to their wellbeing. This is unsurprising as lifelong learning has been shown to improve happiness, purpose and being engaged in life.

Open Age has gone online with 100+ hours of weekly activities from dance, art and languages to lessons on using Zoom.

● We may also be less anxious as we probably have more control over our daily lives. This makes it easier to take precautions to protect ourselves from this virus. A great many over 70s have been doing just that. I’ve had the ‘freedom’ to become a screen-addicted hermit, even if a pretty reluctant one!

Perhaps this helps to explain why our stress and anxiety levels have been lower and our contentment higher.

And we’re being kinder to each other! 

Many believe, me included, that we’re becoming a more altruistic, caring society. There’s been an increase in gratitude and empathy, some having experienced loneliness, unemployment, or poor mental health for the first time. Since Covid’s arrival, communities are becoming more connected and this has benefitted many older people.

Younger people have volunteered and helped the elderly and vulnerable, many of whom live alone. People living in the same street have discovered each other, whether through clapping for carers, WhatsApp groups, or in other ways, and are providing practical support. Charities and other organisations are adapting their services and reaching out to those that need help, even if it’s just a friendly voice at the end of a phone. And many, not in the first flush of youth, have been doing their bit, or even a huge amount, for others – Sir Tom being a prime example.

All this has been wonderful to see and experience; making social connections and giving to others is hugely beneficial for health and wellbeing. This is something really positive coming out of this global pandemic.

As Helen Keller said: ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’

Thank you

I’ve been humbled and uplifted to see so many achieving incredible things – maybe you’re one of them? As the Birthday Honours just published show, amazing contributions and sacrifices have been made during the last six months. (I feel privileged to have played a very small part in the awards process that recognises such phenomenal people). Grateful thanks go to all working to make this a safer, healthier, kinder and more equitable world to grow older in. 

To all 1.5 million NHS employees

And finally…

I hope we will learn from this period and create a positive legacy. Let us all continue to value and reward what really matters, including caring, connecting and contributing.

Now that would be something to celebrate in 2021 and beyond!

As Barack Obama said:

‘The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something…If you ….make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope’

And, if you do good things, stay positive, and have purpose and hope, you will become happier and age joyfully – whatever your age. 

Stay safe; stay strong; stay smiling .…and stay hopeful.

Joyfully (much of the time!),