By Alexander Germanis
The poet Walt Whitman wrote, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine—and shadows will fall behind you.”
Although it is sage advice, it might seem very difficult advice to follow when there does not seem to be any sunshine toward which to turn.
But one of the truly wonderful things about humanity is our ability to “manufacture” sunshine. Even during our darkest times, we can seek out and find the upside, the positive, and the motivational. In so doing, we can stay healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Get Better Acquainted With Others
In a time when terms like “social distancing” are added to the dictionary, it seems counterintuitive to say such times provide opportunities for us to get to know one another better.
But we also live in a time when communication is easier than ever. Long past are the days of only being able to write a letter and having to wait days or even weeks for a response. With inexpensive long distance telephone calls, video conferencing, and social media, staying in contact with our friends and families has never been easier. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sitting down with a pen and paper and writing out a letter to someone you haven’t seen in a long time.
For those who may gripe about being “trapped” with their families, the novelist Orson Scott Card said, “That’s how it goes within a family. You think you know each other so well, and so you don’t bother hardly getting to know each other at all.” For those fortunate enough to be in lockdown with loved ones, being together need not be a burden or a curse. Setting aside time to play a game, assemble a puzzle, or just sit down to talk can build a stronger family and better, lasting friendships.
Get Reacquainted With Yourself
Having more time on one’s hand can easily be seen as a curse as much as a blessing. This may seem especially true if one has recently lost one’s job. But being granted that time is a gift, if it is used to realign one’s internal compass.
Essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” Looking around us too much keeps us from focusing on our own growth. Only by looking inside can we discover our strengths or rediscover our passions.
Reserve time to read a book you may have been putting off. Try a new hobby or delve back into that hobby you may have abandoned because you got “too busy with life.” Get back in touch with those loves, passions, and dreams that drove you when you were younger. By doing so, you may find new direction in the days and years to come.
Lose Your Cares Through Service
While getting to know oneself better is a good thing, reserving all your time for yourself will never end well. Religious leader Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The most miserable people I know are those obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others.”
Serving others can be as small as doing the dishes for your family even when it isn’t your assigned chore. Making a few extra portions of a meal and bringing it to a neighbor or a nearby family can help alleviate another’s burden.
In times when some people—such as the elderly—are more at risk of disease than others, offering to add their shopping list to your own so they can stay safe could also literally mean the difference between life and death.
Regardless of how you may choose to serve, it does not always need to be a grand gesture to have an impact. As said by the Greek fabulist Aesop, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Work Up a Sweat
Any doctor will gladly tell you about the importance of regular exercise. But getting up and moving every day benefits far more than just your body. “Exercise,” said Nelson Mandela, “is the key not only to physical health but to peace of mind.”
The emotional and psychological benefits from regular exercise can outweigh any number of hours in a therapist’s office. The connection between one’s physical wellbeing and one’s emotional wellbeing are indisputable.
Working up a sweat need not mean taking a 15-mile bike ride or four-mile walk. Roughhousing with your kids, working in the garden, mowing the lawn, or doing any number of physical tasks can result in not only a healthier body but a brighter disposition and perhaps even a sense of accomplishment as well.
Avoid the Negative
Once a single drop of ink is diffused in a glass of clean water it is very difficult to make the water clean again. The more negativity we bring into ourselves the harder it gets to ever see things in a positive light. Author Joyce Meyer wrote, “You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind.”
Between the news and the Internet, it is all too easy to be bombarded by negative stories and bleak outlooks of the future. Turning off the news and choosing to dwell on the positive is not the same thing as burying your head in the sand and pretending there is no negativity in the world; it simply means you are not allowing it to negatively influence your own life.
When so many are falling ill around the world, it is important to remember you are still feeling well. Even as those numbers may continue to mount, it is vital to note there are far more people who have recovered than have been lost.
We have all seen rough times in the past. The world has been beset by pandemics before; COVID-19 was far from the first one. Some of us also remember World War II, the many wars that followed, and the change those conflicts wrought. We have also experienced other world-altering tragedies like 9/11. But we have come out the other side and continued onward. As any tree or flower will illustrate: dwelling in the dark does nothing to foster growth; only staying in the light will do that.
Love to Laugh
One of the easiest ways to stay positive is to simply laugh. Poet E. E. Cummings wrote, “The most wasted of days is one without laughter.”
There are hundreds of ways to achieve this daily exercise. Watching your favorite comedies or reading and sharing a joke are simple methods. Playing one of the myriad party games with your family or a small gathering of friends can brighten the moods of everyone in the room. Never underestimate the life-extending, life-enhancing power of spontaneous outbursts of laughter.
Count Your Many Blessings
In Irving Berlin’s poignant song “Count Your Blessings,” he wrote: “When my bankroll is getting small, I think of when I had none at all. And I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Sometimes we get so preoccupied with what we lack we forget about what we already have.
Being denied access to new things can also build an appreciation for the old. If your favorite stores may be closed, it becomes a perfect time to pay off debt, save up money, or find a new use for those items you already possess. If you can’t go out to eat, you save up some money and perhaps learn to cook a new meal. Self-sufficiency is never a bad thing.
In the end, we may not be able to control everything that transpires in the world around us. We cannot decide how those events are going to unfold. “All we have to decide,” said author J.R.R. Tolkien, “is what to do with the time that is given us.”