Like everyone else, I’m not sure when and if we’ll beat the virus. My guess is that we’re going to be living with it for some time as it continues to mutate and evolve. When it first broke out, I told Eric that I thought it would take up to five years while we as a world go through rolling waves of variants. Now, I assume that the genie is so out of the bottle that it is here to stay.
My guess now is that the new anti-viral Pfizer pill will do wonders and that science will keep rolling out vaccine variants as more mutations get online. We’ll get annual or quarterly boosters, but we will be playing catch up. And I don’t know when we will be able to forego masks when in tight quarters. Until the world is vaccinated with something that works (the Russian and Chinese vaccines upon which most of the world is relying have been ineffective against Omicron), the virus periodically will flare up. In the meantime, we are in for a very long, icy climb with an uncertain end date.
But I choose gratitude.
On The Last Day of teaching, I mentioned to my students that choosing gratitude rewires our brains. Worry begets worry because neural pathways that fire together over time get stronger. The brain is very efficient. So, the idea is to increase one’s neurons that fire up gratitude.
Before I go to bed each night, I think about the two or three things that happened that day for which I am most grateful. Studies show that it is one of the best things you can do to boost optimism. One student told me that jotting down his gratitude points each night for a full week calmed him down: he was able to dream again, felt refreshed after sleep, and reported having more energy during the day. (Daily gratitude is a practice that St. Ignatius of Loyola promoted in the early 1500s, if you can believe it; he called it the Examen Prayer–details here.)
Each student of mine this fall received a copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s an amazing book. How do you survive a Nazi death camp? Frankl did that and found that choosing optimism was the difference. And, if Frankl was able to find meaning at such a horrible place during The Shoah back then, I feel that I can do the same in the here and now.
To be honest, the winter holidays are a pretty mixed time for me. A lot went down during such a period when I was seven years-old, and my life forked to a new road at that point. I have to work hard each Christmas-time to choose optimism. The short daylight period doesn’t help much either.
I’ve found that daily prayer/reflection, daily exercise, getting plenty of sleep, fly fishing, and staying in touch with close friends are incredibly helpful and powerful. They give me the energy each day to do my VC job, teach on the side, and try to be the best parent and life partner I can be. Some days are better than others, but I keep at it. On a few days, it is all about a mindset to “rise and grind,” knowing that the day may suck but that things will eventually turn. As a world, we all are in that period I think.
I was texting with a former student this morning, who is going through a challenging time. I think all adults go through this eventually: factors out of your control impede on daily life, obliterate your plans, and everything feels like a jump ball. It is then, though, that I think you find one of life’s truths and a key to happiness: your life isn’t about you. And, when you know that, it is very liberating. We are meant to be net-givers and not net-takers. Knowing that unlocks so much more in life, in my opinion.
My best wishes to you for a safe and peaceful holiday season….