Saturday, March 28, 2020

Finding happiness during a pandemic

I recall, many many years ago, a troubled time in Athens. The Spartans were on the March and we had been ordered to retreat within the city walls. You moderns would call this a ‘lockdown’. It seemed to Pericles to be our best chance of surviving. However, many didn’t. And not because of Sparta. Our dear city was ravaged by a disease. A plague.

I believe 100,000 people died in the outbreak. By the gods, I can still see the look of worry on the faces of my friends. Nobody understood what was going on. Tyche, (Fortuna) was not smiling on us at that time. But we got through. The plague ended and we rebuilt. Insofar as the future can resemble the past, the same can be true today.

You are more fortunate than we Ancients. You have an understanding of how disease spreads. We knew nothing of this. If we had your knowledge, perhaps more of us would have survived. The idea of keeping physical distance may be contrary to our human nature, but your knowledge tells you that it is the best thing to do in this situation.

Many folk try to find happiness in a shopping mall. Now that you can’t seek it there, you may feel saddened. But is happiness really to be found in the mall? Perhaps we have been over estimating how much happiness consumer pursuits can bring. And perhaps we have been under estimating how much happiness can be found in a simple walk in nature or game with a loved one.

I know many people cannot currently walk in nature. We are locked down. Under curfew. But I believe some lockdown rules allow for a walk around the street for exercise. No congregations, of course. Use this time for quiet contemplation. Enjoy the fresh air.

There is no rush to be anywhere during a lockdown. Is this not the most fortunate way to be? You can read a book. You can stay up late and look at the stars. You can immerse yourself in music. Learn how to appreciate a symphony.

We are undoubtedly finding this time challenging. And much of this is out of our control. And so be it. Let the universe be what it will be. Trust that it inclines towards the good and spend your time focusing on what is within your control. Your impression of things is within your control. Your decision on how to spend your time at home is within your control. Your happiness is within your control.

Scientists are focusing on what is within their control; running experiments and developing treatments.

During our Athenian plague we learned a lot about how fragile a population can be. You are being reminded of this. But you can survive. Stay at home and fill your time. Let go of the consumerist route to happiness. You can find it within yourself.

- Socrates