To put it mildly, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been a happy time. However, it has been and continues to be a fertile period for happiness researchers. Researchers from all over the world have been studying what happens to people’s happiness during the greatest collective threat to happiness that most of us have ever known.
First and foremost, the pandemic has visibly (and sensibly) decreased happiness in the United States and around the world. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, four out of ten U.S. individuals have had anxiety or depressive symptoms since the study began, up from around one out of ten in 2019. According to data published in April 2021 from the University College London’s COVID-19 Social Study, an ongoing study of more than 40,000 people, reports of anxiety and depression were at an all-time high during lockdown restrictions in March 2020 and fell when restrictions were loosened later that spring.
Even when you’re putting distance between yourself and others, you can stay social.
Even when physical contact is risky, social connections have good impacts. Being married or cohabiting with a partner was one of the most protective measures against loneliness during the early months of the pandemic, according to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics, which found in June 2020 that being married or cohabiting with a partner was one of the most protective measures against loneliness during this time.
Various studies have also revealed that persons who felt linked to others throughout the epidemic had fewer anxiety and depression symptoms. People have done a “great amount of coping” since the outbreak began, according to Nancy Hey, executive director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in the United Kingdom, which collects evidence about what works to enhance wellbeing.
“In some respects, when there’s a crisis, we come together more,” adds Hey. “The best thing you can do is call your family and friends,” says the narrator. It’s crucial to know that someone is there for you when you’re in difficulties.”
Relationships have become increasingly digital for many people. During the pandemic, video calls increased dramatically; according to market research firm Sensor Tower, use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet was over 21 times greater in the first half of 2020 than in the same period in 2019.
These kind of digital contacts also tend to be protective of one’s well-being. Social contact, whether in person and by phone or video call, has been linked to lower depression symptoms in recent research. According to John Helliwell, professor emeritus at Vancouver School of Economics and publisher of the World Happiness Report, video conversations helped alleviate some of the severe loneliness in a way that few people realize. “It would have been much, much more difficult if this had happened 50 years ago, and everyone had been at home with no way of truly being in contact with people,” Helliwell says. “The ability to work and socialize without making physical touch has been a huge support mechanism.”
Nonetheless, video calls can feel insufficient and frustrating, resulting in a mixed influence on one’s well-being. People who were unsatisfied with video conversations were more likely to be lonely during the epidemic, according to a survey of more than 20,000 people from 101 countries published in September 2021.
While video chats should not be considered as a replacement for in-person interaction, according to Daisy Fancourt, an associate professor at University College London and a leader of the COVID-19 Social Study, they did appear to help people feel connected and happier when used in moderation. “We discovered that persons who used video conversations, as well as traditional phone calls, as a virtual means of staying in touch [for] limited amounts of time per day— that appears to be advantageous,” said Fancourt.
Volunteering and being a good neighbor
People were forced to develop new ways to connect outside of their social bubbles as a result of the pandemic. Many people, for example, drew closer to their neighbors or began volunteering. In September 2021, the COVID-19 Social Study reported that a third of respondents stated they received more help from their neighbors during the epidemic than they had before it.
Volunteering has also grown in popularity. The National Health Service of the United Kingdom (NHS) requested for volunteers in March 2020 to help with chores such as shopping for those who were isolating or quarantining, transferring patients, and moving equipment. In less than 24 hours, it reached its first goal of 250,000 volunteers, and two days later, it reached its second goal of 750,000 volunteers.
Volunteering has been shown to have a favorable impact not just on the individuals who get assistance, but also on the volunteers, according to studies. Volunteering was one of the top activities connected with an increase in life satisfaction, according to a May 2021 analysis of more than 55,000 U.K. participants from the COVID-19 Social Study during 11 weeks of lockdown.
Hobbies and physical activity
Social methods aren’t the only ones that work. Gardening and other outdoor activities, as well as creative interests like as art and reading, have all aided people’s well-being, according to Fancourt. Exercise, which has been related to emotional advantages in the past, was another mood-boosting activity.
People who exercised often during the lockdown reported more pleasant moods, according to a survey of roughly 13,700 people from 18 nations published in Frontiers in Psychology in September 2020. The majority of individuals appear to have realized that exercise is a crucial method to keep their spirits up; the survey found that people did not exercise less during lockdown than before, and nearly a third of them exercised more.
Of course, such efforts only go so far for those who have lost a loved one to the virus or who have become severely ill as a result of it. One notable feature of the statistics on pandemic well-being is that it is intrinsically unfair; for example, the COVID-19 Social Study found that having a low income is connected with lower mental health during the pandemic. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic’s psychological upheaval, it is increased mental health literacy, according to Fancourt.
People were forced to confront their own mental health understanding, “their ability to communicate about it in acceptable language, their ability to detect their own symptoms and sensations or probable mental health problems,” she says. “COVID has been its name for a long time.” (Tara Law)