Written by : Paula Felps

Positive Lessons From the Pandemic

Although much has been researched and written about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected mental and emotional well-being around the globe, most of that research has looked at its negative effects. During the International Positive Psychology Association’s (IPPA) Seventh World Congress last week, held virtually for the first time, some of the world’s leading positive psychology experts shared the lesser-known ways the pandemic has had positive outcomes for individuals and for society.Dr. Antonella Delle Fave, professor of psychology at the University of Milano in Italy, offered the keynote presentation, “Eudaimonia: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” providing insight into some of the lesser-publicized effects of the pandemic. Her research looked at how factors such as resilience and social support affected individuals.The studies clearly show the importance of good mental health, she said.“Mental health was shown to play a protective role against PTSD,” she reported, referencing a study that indicated 33% of people considered themselves to be flourishing during the pandemic, while 9% landed in the “languishing” category. The rest of the survey respondents fell somewhere in between those two extremes.

“People who were languishing were at higher risk of developing PTSD during the pandemic. Positive mental health was a predictor of less severe symptoms.”

Building Resilience

Individual resilience showed a direct correlation to such things as depression, anxiety and stress in countries around the globe. But those who practiced healthy, resilience-building skills fared far better than those who did not. For example, studies from Norway and the U.S. showed that people who participated in physical activity were less susceptible to depression and anxiety. Other factors found to bolster resilience included support from family and friends, proper sleep habits and prayer or meditation.

“Resilience seems to be one of the primary resources across nations and populations,” Delle Fave noted. “Studies around the world are in agreement about the positive role of resilience in well-being and the negative correlation between low resilience and anxiety.”

Discovering Happiness

Based on Delle Fave’s research, the people who were able to thrive and flourish during lockdowns looked at the pandemic through a different lens. That not only allowed them to feel more at ease in the moment but often created lasting change in their lives, such as:

  • Many people reevaluated what was important in life, such as being healthy and having social support.
  • They also reevaluated how they spent their time and what was valuable to them. This led to rediscovering lost interests, changing their relationship with work and becoming more self-aware.
  • A large number of people strengthened relationships with their family and friends. “People who increased their social connections saw higher levels of wellbeing in all countries,” Delle Fave said. “What this showed us was that interaction with family and friends mattered. Social support was an important contributor to wellbeing.”

Steps to Well-being

Other researchers looked at specific ways people maintained their well-being and built resilience during the pandemic. A study headed by Lea Waters of the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne in Australia identified several interventions that were shown to be successful in managing the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic. They included:

  • Finding meaning. Having meaning in life helps buffer the effects of adversity and has both physical and psychological advantages, Waters’ report shows: “People who report higher levels of meaning in life also are happier, express more frequent and strong positive emotions, endorse and use their character strengths more, have more satisfying relationships and are viewed as more desirable potential friends, help others more, feel better subjective health, report fewer health symptoms [and] have better functioning immune systems.”
  • Practicing self-compassion. Treating oneself with kindness is an effective way to cope with high-stress situations, and that proved true during the pandemic. People who practiced self-compassion during the pandemic reported less fear and a greater sense of emotional safety.
  • Creating a gratitude practice. One study conducted during the pandemic showed that many people were grateful even during the pandemic. Over 56% of respondents reported being grateful, which ranked higher than any other positive emotion, such as happiness or hope. And it was a strong predictor of happiness after the pandemic. “The more grateful people were, the more they reported positive self-changes. This is important because people can increase their levels of gratitude with simple practices such as journaling.”

Implementing such practices can have a significant effect on how well an individual manages such adverse conditions as, say, a global pandemic, and Waters said she hoped the research would provide a path forward to help individuals increase their resilience and wellbeing in a post-pandemic world.

“[We] hope that the cultivation of these outcomes continues beyond this crisis and leads to sustained positive outcomes,” she said.

 

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