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Joy and Optimism in Times of Adversity:

Lessons from the Pandemic


By Derek Goodman of

Americans are unhappier than ever. It’s not hard to see why: Families are facing financial strain, illness, and death, the media is a constant stream of bad news, and well into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel.


In spite of so much strife, people are finding the silver linings. In one study, the vast majority of respondents identified positive impacts of pandemic lockdowns including:

  • Healthier lifestyles.
  • A renewed appreciation for family.
  • A stronger sense of community.
  • An opportunity to reconnect with their values.
  • Discovering new opportunities and possibilities.


For these people, and for Dr. Mara Karpel, happiness is a choice. Instead of focusing on the obstacles, they adopt a mindset of joy, passion, and purpose.


That’s not easy to do in challenging times like these. There’s also no better time to start. If you’re ready to redirect your journey to a more joyful destination, borrow these practices and start exercising your optimism muscle.

Practicing self-compassion

“It’s okay not to be okay” has become the unofficial mantra of the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be unrealistic to expect yourself to live through a global pandemic without so much as a wince. Instead of brushing aside difficult emotions, let yourself feel them. Hiding pain and discomfort only makes them worse. Therapy provides a safe space for exploring emotions and identifying patterns. With teletherapy options expanding, help is more accessible than ever.

Scheduling worry time

At the same time, rumination isn’t productive. In the face of nonstop stressors, people have embraced the concept of scheduled worry time. During worry time, write every stressor you can think of into a journal to get worries out of your head. Setting boundaries around worry helps maintain your perspective and, over time, improves mindfulness and lessens intrusive thoughts.

Developing a gratitude attitude

After penciling worry time into your schedule, carve out a block for gratitude practice. Experts have been singing the praises of gratitude for years but it only gained traction recently. Expressing gratitude might feel cheesy at first. Push through the awkwardness and you’ll reap benefits like increased optimism and less stress when you make gratitude journaling a habit.

Living with less

Gratitude is important during times of financial strain. Instead of focusing on what they’ve lost, people are looking for the positives of a simpler lifestyle. Take families who sold a home during the pandemic for example: Instead of mourning their loss, they’re enjoying newfound amenities as renters — and in many cases at a lower cost. As Austin home prices rise, the cost to rent an apartment (around $1,500 in Downtown Austin and as low as $600 outside the city) increasingly comes out in renters’ favor.

And doing more with less

People are applying that same mindset to their free time. Instead of shopping, dining, and nights on the town, they’re engaging in simpler pastimes with family and close friends. Puzzles, board games, gardening, baking bread, and other “slow” hobbies saw a major resurgence during the pandemic as people reconnected with life’s little pleasures. We’re also spending more time outdoors and gaining a newfound appreciation for nature.

Supporting our communities

When optimists did get out and about, they were more inclined to patronize local mom-and-pop shops than big box businesses. Americans are going out of their way to support small businesses during the pandemic in a move of community solidarity. We’ve also been doing acts of kindness to both support the community and boost our own mental wellness.


Maintaining an optimistic outlook in spite of adversity isn’t just about putting on a happy face. When we adopt practices like these, we do more than lift our spirits. We develop the resilience needed to persevere through adversity instead of letting fear and hopelessness take hold.


Have you found joy in the face of unprecedented adversity, or are you stuck in a mental rut?  Dr. Mara’s bestselling book The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age will help you develop the positive habits needed to push through challenges and invite joy into daily life.

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