finding happiness during difficult times

Secrets to Happiness in a Shaky World


Updated By Allie Cuno on October 28, 2020

It’s been a tough year. No argument there. Between Covid-19, natural disasters, job losses, the economic downturn, and civil and political unrest, it’s enough to make you take off your mask, curl into a fetal position, and wish 2020 away.

Finding the Silver Lining to 2020. When the clock strikes 12 AM on January 1, 2021, tough times will not magically disappear. So how do we successfully cope with difficult times? Along with this doom and gloom there is good news. Research has shown that at least part of your happiness is well within your control.1 “Happiness doesn’t just happen,” says Pileggi Pawelski, a well-being consultant specializing in the science of happiness, “but healthy habits certainly can determine our wellbeing.”1

Happiness is man-made. It’s nice to know our circumstances account for only a relatively small portion of the happiness pie. And it’s empowering to know that you can change your outlook on life just by making a few simple changes, which may mean wrestling a bit with human nature.

Human nature examined. In a tweet, mental health advocate Jordan Brown says, “Coronavirus panic seems to make people act one of two ways. 1. Extreme kindness, 2. Extreme selfishness.” It appears that a crisis brings out our true nature. It may also bring out a side of you that you didn’t even know existed, such as anxiety, fear, and pessimism.

The benefits of giving. If that’s the case, just know that it is possible to bring more optimism into your life no matter your circumstances or human nature. Part of optimism is to see adversity as an opportunity for growth and happiness. In a crisis, there are even more opportunities for helping and encouraging others. And research shows that helping others without expecting anything in return minimizes stress, reduces pain, improves depression, and can even help us live longer.2

The attitude of gratitude. Much like the benefits of helping others, research has also shown that there’s a strong correlation between happiness and gratitude. When we feel and express gratitude, we are happier for it. Why? One theory suggests that gratitude encourages positive emotions, developing relationships and relishing good things that happen, all of which make you happier.3

A big part of gratitude is acknowledging and being thankful for things we typically take for granted. Even with this year’s calamities, we still have basic “essentials” that those in developing countries would consider luxuries. Inspired by the article, “13 Small Things to Be Grateful for in 2020”, I’ve compiled a list of things for which we should give thanks every day:

  1. Fresh Air and Sunshine –– Take advantage of the crisp autumn air and changing leaves. Take a walk, sit by a pond and meditate, or throw the frisbee to your dog (my favorite). Outside is one of the few places you can typically forget the mask and bask in the healing balm of nature.
  2. Food and Water –– We may be in the middle of a pandemic, but most of us will still eat dinner tonight. We also have water that doesn’t need to be boiled or require walking a mile to fetch. Before you eat, express gratitude first.
  3. Friends and Family –– We are social animals. One study shows that social connections make you healthier and increase your longevity. Conversely, loneliness appears to be toxic. As Dr. Waldinger, current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, explains, “People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy, their health declines earlier in mid-life, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”4 The takeaway? If you are lonely, make it a priority to make social connections. And make a loved one’s day by expressing gratitude to them for their love and support.
  4. Heat and Electricity –– It takes only one evening without electricity for you to realize how much value it brings to your life. Relish the creature comforts of life … warm socks and a cozy couch while snowflakes fall outside. Be thankful for all the conveniences our modern age brings.
  5. Self-Reflection –– When devastating circumstances happen to us, they tend to make us reflect on the things that matter most and feel gratitude for them. For example, it’s not unusual for a family whose house burned down to express gratitude that all family members are safe. The things lost were just “stuff.” 2020 is the perfect time to reflect on what’s important to you. What makes you happy now? What will make you happy in the future?
  6. Fresh Opportunities –– With the surge of Covid-19, everyday life changed seemingly overnight. Some are working remotely, others’ job duties changed, while yet others lost their jobs. Whatever the change, be grateful to live in a land of opportunity. Where one window closes, another opens. This may be the perfect time to learn a new trade or earn a degree. Be grateful for technology which makes possible what was previously impossible––busy people with jobs and families completing their degrees online. For many adults, the flexibility of online learning is the only way they can achieve a degree.

Bottom line: Crisis can bring opportunities for personal growth and happiness. Regardless of your circumstances, it’s still your choice as to whether you will come out of 2020 a happier person with more gratitude for the things that really matter. You can choose a more enlightened perspective on what you really want in life. We hope it includes a new degree, a new career, and a fantastic future for you and your loved ones!


Call (800) 917-6391 today to learn more about our career-focused degree programs—from Associate’s to Master’s—earned 100% online with 24/7 anytime, anywhere flexibility. From healthcare and business to IT and graphic arts, we are eager to assist in finding the right degree program for YOU.

Allie Cuno is a human-interest writer for Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE).

  1. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/01/9158380/how-to-be-happier-2020
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/30/health/volunteering-reduces-pain-wellness/index.html
  3. https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-happiness-research/
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/can-relationships-boost-longevity-and-well-being

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