A happy life
Despite the pandemic, some families thrive socially and emotionally (see “Reconnect and rediscover,” April 23).
Even with anxieties about health and livelihood, they have remained upbeat and have kept busy at home. They have strengthened bonds with each other, even readily extending help to front-liners and the disadvantaged.
Unfortunately, the opposite holds for many other families.
Staying under one roof “feels like a prison from which I cannot escape,” said a third-generation scion in his mid-20s, who “cannot stand [his] mother’s nagging to be productive.”
One time, he yelled back at her, and the situation got worse. Since then he started avoiding his mother, and had not spoken to her in weeks.
“We used to live in the same compound,” said Maria (not her real name), a retail operations head in her late 30s.
“When my brothers and I got married, our parents gave each of us our own place, thank goodness. I cannot imagine what would happen if we were living beside each other.
“Our business has managed to weather the pandemic, but we are so stressed out. We are texting and Vibering every day, and our messages are becoming worse. Once, I was so angry during a Zoom meet that I just turned off the laptop.”
In the heat of the moment, texts can often be misinterpreted, I told Maria. She shrugged.
“Even before the pandemic, we were never close. Our default mode is anger and fear. We were never really happy with each other, you know. Is depression a family thing?”
Maria had unwittingly hit upon the truth.
The pandemic can be blamed for many things, but a person’s well-being or unhappiness is the sum of what Harvard professor Arthur Brooks, in his Atlantic column “The Three Equations for a Happy Life, Even During a Pandemic,” terms as “genes + circumstances + habits.”
First, the bad news.
If you are not happy, studies show your genes may be responsible for around half of this. A substantial amount of depression is inherited.
“I dislike the idea that anything about my character or personality is genetic, because I want to be fully in charge of building my life,” writes Brooks.
“But the research is clear that there is a huge genetic component in determining your ‘set point’ for subjective well-being, the baseline you always seem to return to after events sway your mood.”
Of course, this also works the other way. If your parents have naturally cheery dispositions, this ups your chances of being an optimist as well.
How about the circumstances we find ourselves in, such as the pandemic? Studies differ on how much they impact happiness—from 10 to 40 percent.
The effects of circumstances supposedly do not last long. If we win the lottery, we feel great, but this well-being does not last. If we undergo a breakup, we feel horrible, but unless we have underlying depression, the sadness does not last.
“People never feel they have enough money, because they get used to their circumstances very quickly and need more money to make them happy again,” says Brooks.
“Think back to your last significant pay increase. When did you get the greatest satisfaction—on the day your boss told you that you were getting a raise? The day it started hitting your bank account? And how much satisfaction was it giving you six months later?
“And for those of us lucky enough to avoid illness, even the unhappiness from the COVID-19 crisis will be in the rearview mirror before very long.”
We have no control over our genes, and little influence over circumstances. That leaves us with the last component of well-being, which is habit.
Finally, the good news: We can develop proper habits to increase our well-being. Habits comprise faith, family, friends and work. We will discuss next week.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at www.lazada.com.ph or call National’s Jennie Garcia at 0915-421-2276. Contact the author at [email protected]
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