“You gotta look for the good in the bad, the happy in the sad, the gain in your pain, and what makes you grateful, not hateful.” ~Karen Salmansohn
The 2010 decade was difficult for me. Hardly a year went by without someone close to me passing away.
When the tragic decade started, I was in the midst of my residency training and free time was a luxury I did not have. When I graduated and became an attending physician, I was too busy caring for patients on my own to take a break.
In 2018, my world was shattered when one of my best friends died unexpectedly. The sudden shock of it left me feeling helpless. To counter my feeling of despair, I worked even harder to take care of patients in need.
Shortly afterward, my father-in-law was diagnosed with a recurrence of his cancer. Over the next year, my husband and I spent whatever free time we had flying across the country to see him. We watched as he slowly deteriorated until he took his last breath in 2019.
Instead of slowing down, I kept on. It seemed like the more I needed a mental health break to grieve, the harder I worked to suppress my grief.
When the world stopped due to COVID-19, I too was forced to take a pause. With the whole world quarantined, I finally had the time to heal my broken heart.
With more time at home, my husband and I found ourselves taking more walks, cooking more meals, and openly talking about our feelings. We visited with family over FaceTime and Zoom and shared stories about those who were now gone.
We found joy in the small things: a sunrise, a bird’s song, and even just a cup of tea. With the past vastly different from what we were living through and the future feeling so uncertain, we were finally living in the present.
Though the pandemic brought with it so much suffering and sadness, I found unexpected gratitude in the midst of it:
Gratitude for the time that we had with our lost loved ones before COVID-19.
Gratitude for the extra time to spend with one another now.
Gratitude for the technology that allowed us to stay connected with our family and friends.
Gratitude for the reminder that life is fragile and that “taking it slow” is sometimes necessary.
Gratitude for the chance to take a step back and reflect on the important things in life.
Surprisingly, I realized that I felt gratitude for COVID-19.
It’s been the darkest of times. I’m devastated by all the lives lost and all the other losses people have experienced. The course of humanity has changed, and likely not for the better.
But I’ve found solace in the silver linings that have emerged from the pandemic—things that will stay with me long after the virus has passed. I am far more grateful today than I have ever been and with it comes a sense of peace and a newfound strength to carry on.
My father-in-law, for instance, died peacefully at home surrounded by his loved ones. For a year, we were able to join him at his medical appointments and also create new memories. We arranged for a family trip to Mexico so he could enjoy warmth in the wintertime with his sons and brothers.
These otherwise normal events would not have been possible during the beginning of the pandemic. If he had passed away a year later, we wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye the way we did. I’m grateful for the quality time we had.
During the pandemic, I finally grieved my best friend’s death. Instead of keeping myself busy to distract from it as I had done before, I now had time to truly process and feel his loss through the five stages of grief. I think about him at least once a day but instead of feeling sorrow, I’m usually thinking about how he would guide me through this new normal.
While the pandemic is not something to celebrate, it has certainly opened my mind. I never would have thought that something so awful could bring about so much healing and hope.
COVID-19 made it very clear that life is too short to worry about the little things. Life is too precious not to enjoy every moment, especially with our loved ones. When we choose to be grateful for all that we have, we open ourselves up to more joy, peace, and connection.
While we may not be able to control our circumstances, we can control how we react to them. We can choose kindness, understanding, and empathy for ourselves and others.
Did someone just cut me off in traffic? It’s okay, maybe they’re rushing to the hospital to see a loved one. I hope they make it there safely!
Is the Wifi connection poor again? No worries, I can use this time to read a book.
Did I make the wrong decision? It’s okay, I’ll learn from it and make a better choice next time.
Reframing our thoughts to focus on the good, no matter how small, can have a powerful effect on our mood and outlook. Things that would otherwise be frustrating or upsetting are suddenly not so bad.
For all of us, COVID-19 has taken away so much. But if we can find a way to look for the positive and cultivate gratitude then we can find happiness amid hardship. We can come out of this stronger, kinder, and more connected to the people and things that matter most.
I’ve developed several good habits during the pandemic. I now journal every day writing about all the things that made me happy. Whenever I spend time with friends and family, I give them my undivided attention. I enjoy my work—I treat my patients as I would my family and consider it a privilege to be part of their care. I’ve also been taking more time for self-care and nurturing my creative pursuits.
The world has changed and so have I. I am grateful for the life lessons and growth.
About Manda Lai
Manda Lai is a physician and Co-Founder of a little dose of happy (aldohappy, "all do happy"), a mission, mindset, and movement dedicated to spreading happiness throughout the world. She is passionate about helping people find and cultivate happiness through doing happy, i.e. purposeful action, including kindness, gratitude, empathy, relationship building, and self-care. Visit the a little dose of happy blog to find tips and resources on how to infuse happiness into everyday life.