As we gradually come out of lockdown in this country, many of us are wondering what life will look like once the whole planet has emerged from the pandemic. Will it revert to what it was before Covid? Or have the events of the past year left too deep a scar in all of our psyches for everything to go back to the ‘old normal’?
Historians predict a dramatic rise in group leisure activities, such as live music and sports events, as this is what happened in the 1920s when societies emerged from the 1918 flu pandemic and WW1. But these are the 2020s, and the world we live in is drastically different from 100 years ago.
Sociologists and psychologists have been telling us for years that human beings are hardwired for social connection; that close relationships are what keeps us happy and healthy. Yet, some of the most extroverted people I know seem to have adapted worryingly well to the imposed self-isolation and discovered a withdrawn – even slightly misanthropic – side to them they never knew they had!
All the while, most introverts carried on as normal – probably feeling vindicated at last. Because, in truth, much of the socialisation that takes place in the modern world tends to be superficial, opportunistic (think networking events) and far from emotionally fulfilling. The restrictions on socialisation gave us all permission to take a step back from all that, without fear of being branded unsociable or downright rude.
Many people feel a sense of guilt about having enjoyed certain aspects of being in lockdown. Of course, we’ve all felt surges of overwhelming sadness at the loss of human life, the widespread financial hardship, and the traumatic stress endured by medical and social care professionals. At the same time, after an initial bout of intense anxiety, caused by the very high levels of uncertainty, many of us also felt a sense of relief from social pressure. Suddenly, it no longer felt like we were the only ones in town staying in on a Friday night!
On an individual level, grief and trauma often offer an opportunity for personal growth, and I wonder how the human race as a whole will emerge from this pandemic. Will we be more socially aware? Or, rather, even more selfish and materialistic? Judging by what has been happening on a macroeconomic level in the past year (the superrich getting even richer while many hard-working people have become destitute), the latter might seem more likely.
However, there is also reason for optimism. Mental health awareness is definitely on the rise. A growing number of renowned individuals and organisations have been talking openly about the importance of mindfulness and self-care. If this growth in awareness continues, it is bound to have positive effects on society as a whole, including on a socio-political level, as one of the main benefits of mindfulness practice is increased empathy and compassion. This, in turn, might lead to a growing need and drive to fight socio-economic inequality.
Another positive effect of the pandemic could be increased awareness of the ‘illusion of separateness’. This might sound like an airy-fairy concept, but is in fact based on scientific observation, as explained beautifully by astrophysicist Tom Chi in this Ted Talk, and can have very practical social implications, if we realise that these kinds of global events can only be solved by working together as an international community.
Of course, we also run the risk of going the other way and witnessing increased prejudice and different nations blaming one another rather than cooperating. This is almost impossible to forecast. Everything is in a constant state of change and the pace at which things change on a technological, environmental and socio-cultural level has been accelerating over the past 70 years; to the point that it has become very difficult, even for experts and scientists, to make sense of it all.
Also on a small-scale, individual level, our personal and professional lives seem to have become unnecessarily complex and cluttered.
A major takeaway from the experience of lockdown has been the realisation that much of what we normally fill our lives with is in fact superfluous. Many people have left overcrowded cities for more rural areas. Will this trend continue post-Covid? Again, very tricky to predict, as many others have struggled with the lack of human interaction that comes with working in an office. At any rate, for various reasons, not everybody can afford to move to the sea or countryside. But there are several ways in which we can all simplify and declutter our lives, both practically and emotionally.
There are plenty of books and articles out there about simple living and minimalism. It makes a lot of sense. Getting rid of excess possessions is a good place to start. But the philosophy is about much more than taking a bunch of old clothes and books to the charity shop. It is about creating space, mentally and physically, in order to gain clarity. Minimising stress by reducing consumption and work time. Discarding what isn’t meaningful or beneficial in your life and learning to be more economical with your time – your most precious commodity.
As with any change in mindset, simplification is a gradual process that may prove to be the key to a healthier, more balanced existence.
What do you need to let go of?