It's been two years since the world as we knew it was forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic.
We know you probably don't need that reminder, and there are probably a lot of people out there who don't want one.
This essay first appeared in NPR's Life Kit newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus weekly tips that can help make life a little easier.
But if you're reading this, it means you've been through a lot:
Through unemployment and essential work; lockdowns and empty grocery store shelves and social distancing or even isolation; Zoom rooms and tiger kings and sourdough starters and all the sweatpants; mask mandates and police brutality; a presidential election and an insurrection; vaccines and boosters and masks off and on and off and on again.
It's been a revolving door of fear and fatigue and anger and uncertainty and suffering and loss. But we've also experienced a surprising amount of joy, and kindness, and new discovery, and delight, even.
All of this to say: it feels all but impossible to qualify two years of pandemic living in any one way, but one thing is certain: we're still here – and we're changed.
The Life Kit team looked back on some of the most valuable lessons from the last two years that can help you look forward. Here are moments that helped change our mindsets and kept us moving through the past two years:
How to let more joy into your life
Producer Janet W. Lee grew to appreciate the small things:
While recent years have made it harder for me to look at the world with a more positive outlook, poet Ross Gay taught me to let more joy into my life. Gay is the author of The Book of Delights, where he shares the practice of calling out the delights in his everyday. This practice of taking a second to say the smell of coffee is lovely or to smile at the sound of my cat purring has brightened up my life.
Laziness does not exist
Managing producer Meghan Keane thanks Dumptruck for finding worth beyond productivity:
Dumptruck the chinchilla
Dumptruck the chinchilla
Before the pandemic, I was all about hustle culture: get to work early, leave late, ignore any signs that I might need to slow down. But then a chinchilla named Dumptruck changed everything. We interviewed social psychologist (and owner of Dumptruck) Devon Price about his book Laziness Does Not Exist. Price says he never questions Dumptruck's worth because he lies around all day, but we're extra hard on ourselves when we aren't being productive. He says what we often see as laziness is actually a signal from our bodies to rest – we all still have worth when we are simply breathing on the couch.
Time is the building block of life
Producer Clare Marie Schneider learned the value of time:
Four Thousand Weeks author Oliver Burkeman says he's in recovery from productivity. Now, he thinks of time as a precious resource – the building block of our lives. When we interviewed him, he said, "The sum total of all the things you paid attention to will have been your life." To me, this way of looking at time leaves a little more room to embrace taking out the trash, over and over again, and to move towards what feels most exciting in life.
Finding passion outside of work
Producer Audrey Nguyen shifted her energy to find what she loves outside of her work:
I've struggled with pouring too much of myself into my work, and not leaving enough gas in the tank for my life outside of the 9-to-5. One of the most useful lessons I learned came from our interview with sociology professor Erin Cech, author of The Trouble With Passion: How Searching For Fulfillment At Work Fosters Inequality. She recommends finding ways to "diversify your meaning-making portfolio." Taking a step back and figuring out how to make room for passion outside of work has been really helpful for my mental health. I've been birding, and I'm currently taking a pottery class with my partner at our local community college!
Find your "resilience circle"
Visual and digital editor Beck Harlan built community in a time of isolation:
The last two years have felt particularly uncertain. That makes it hard to plan, hard to dream and hard to cope. Author Elizabeth White faced some uncertainty of her own during the Great Recession, and she has a piece of advice: don't go it alone. White found support in a "resilience circle" – essentially, "a few people that I could tell the truth to." Having those folks who'll be a sounding board and a cheer squad in your corner, can get you through a lot. It doesn't matter how you connect — Whatsapp, Marco Polo, postcards, a weekly walk — just that you DO.
From all of us to you: we're grateful for the time you've spent with us today and throughout the pandemic. We're still here.
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