It’s been a year since the pandemic truly became a ‘pandemic’. I never truly reflected on the year so far until I came across a post on Medium’s Instagram page with a writing prompt for reflective accounts of life during the pandemic.
Initially, I remember thinking about the pandemic as something that had to be “suffered” through for a bit, and then life would resume as normal. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. The mindset of my friends and family resonated with mine as well. Any plans for enjoyment — going out, eating good food, catching a movie — were suspended for the foreseeable future.
“Let this pandemic end, then we’ll go there, do this, watch that…”
These decisions had to be made for the benefit of public health and still do; at least for a while. However, what was not needed was the suspension of enjoyment itself. In those initial months, I was so bummed out about not being able to do the things I would normally do for recreation, that I forgot that there were other ways I could still enjoy myself, even during a pandemic.
For example, I enjoyed dressing up to eat out, window shopping in malls and buying clothes every two months or so. But with the pandemic, no occasion seemed special enough to dress up for. And why buy new clothes when you don’t have somewhere to wear them to? I used to enjoy sitting in coffee shops or taking a break from my grad school readings to go roam around a mall. Even though I could not sit in a coffee shop or go to a mall, it wasn’t like I couldn’t get the same coffee home or go roam around elsewhere, in a park for example. But again, the mindset that this was something to wait out made me blind to those compromises and I started denying myself enjoyment altogether, suspending it for after the pandemic. The longer this went on the worse it got, and finally, I found that my life had become really dull.
According to this New York Times article, it seems that the impulse to “put off till tomorrow, what could be enjoyed today” has been studied in psychology and behavioral economics. Dr. Shu and Dr. Gneezy, two consumer psychology researchers, say that “people can become overly focused on an ideal and even if they know it’s unlikely, they get so focused on the perfect scenario that they block everything else”. What they mean to say is that people can get so focused on finding the perfect situation, time, or return on investment’ for their pursuit of enjoyment, that they procrastinate the enjoyment itself, sometimes to an extent that they forego it altogether. This kind of thinking can trap you into downward spirals that can be hard to get out of:
“Once you start procrastinating pleasure, it can become a self-perpetuating process if you fixate on some imagined nirvana. The longer you wait to open that prize bottle of wine, the more special the occasion has to be.” — NYT
Some strategies that the researchers suggest to get out of this trap is to give in to your immediate impulse to enjoy yourself and find ways to do it even if it isn’t in the way that corresponds to your ideal preference. Another way you could help yourself is by giving yourself deadlines by when to materialize a plan, or to engage in that recreational activity you have been putting off. If the ideal situation you keep dreaming of does not materialize by then, force yourself to go enjoy your time anyway.
Though I hadn’t read this article back then, when I was feeling dull and sullen two months into the pandemic, this is exactly what I did to get myself out of the rut. I made a conscious effort to enjoy myself more when I felt like I needed the break or just wanted to have some fun. When I was craving good food and couldn’t go out to eat, I decided to get some ingredients and make the effort to cook up a delicious meal myself. In the process, I learned how to make some new dishes and new cooking techniques as well. I couldn’t go to the gym to burn off extra energy and get my daily fix of endorphins, so I bought some resistance bands and took up running. When I got bored during all the extra time, I started writing on Medium, an activity I now cherish that has even paid off monetarily! I couldn’t go out to watch a movie? No problem. I made an effort to catch up on watch must-watch shows like Breaking Bad, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine that I had been putting off for a long time. After watching them, I couldn’t believe that I had put them off for so long! When I felt the need to go roam around, I started going on coffee pickup runs or outdoor walks to give myself the opportunity to go out. Since window shopping in malls was a big no-no, I started doing the same online. Though it was not the same, it was a reasonable compromise.
Having said that, there are some things that I still keep postponing. I just can’t help myself. I have at least 15 brand-new pieces of clothing in my closet that are still in their tags. I just can’t bring myself to wear them — no occasion seems right enough and wearing them at home just feels like I am decreasing their ‘newness’ for no reason. This has gotten so bad that I am not even opening t-shirts that I bought to wear at home. I postponed getting a haircut for six months because it did not feel worth it — what do I have to look fresh for? Nevertheless, the things that I have managed to get over have helped a lot and greatly improved the quality of my life.
I’ve realized that the best way to look at this pandemic is not as if it were a gloomy morning, a bad hair day, or an exhausting week, but as a phase of life, like a cold winter or a hot summer. You don’t stop having fun then, so why now? Sure, you can’t go for walks on cold winter days like you would in the spring, but you do find other ways to enjoy yourself. This pandemic has taught me to disassociate the feeling of enjoyment from any particular activity and try not to worry about whether the conditions are ideal for enjoying myself.
I wish I had known about this fallacy a year ago so that I could have lived in the moment for the initial part of the pandemic. But, I am still grateful for the realizations this past year has brought. So, if you are in the same boat as I was at the start of the pandemic, don’t wait around for it to end to enjoy yourself. GO ENJOY YOURSELF…NOW!