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Defining happiness during the pandemic

By APPLES ABERIN, THE PHILIPPINE STAR Published Oct 13, 2020 5:00 pm

Over the lockdown, I reignited my passion for creating beautiful spaces at home. I made an effort to create pretty tablescapes for intimate dinners or even just breakfast for two.

How do I begin to explain what the last few months have been like? There are so many big words that come to my head. Challenging, unpredictable, volatile, surreal and unprecedented ­— a word that’s been grossly overused by anyone and everyone. And really, who would have thought that we would ever be in this kind of situation? A global pandemic is supposed to be the stuff movies are made of, right? Well, here we are except, unlike the movies, we don’t exactly have a superhero to save us.

Way back in March when this all started, I had no clue that this would last as long as it has, with no apparent end in sight. I started cancelling trip after trip, both for work and play until at some point, I realized that what was happening was not going to end anytime soon.

It was not the fact that we were locked down and staying home that bothered me most. It was the constant news about people dying from COVID-19, being admitted to ICU for intubation, people losing jobs, and businesses closing down. The barrage of negative news was non-stop and continues to this day. Sometimes, there are days like these when it is just a lot harder to deal.

IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY

I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonably strong woman who could manage any challenge constructively. But I must admit that this pandemic, give or take a few personal trials, has made me question my resilience and grit. So how does one deal when you feel like you’ve reached your wit’s end?A precious lesson I learned is to cut myself some slack. And you know what? You should, too. It’s okay if we can’t be perfect or “extra” or “100.” It is the cliché of all clichés, but it truly is okay to not be okay. It is perfectly acceptable for us to take a step back and give ourselves the chance to just be, to just feel, no excuses.

Having said that, I also believe that we can’t indulge in these feelings. So, allow yourself to feel but also lift yourself up from the negativity. How does that popular saying go again? “You’re allowed five emotional minutes in a day, then you gotta be gangsta.” Fine, take 10 or even 20, but please don’t let the negativity linger.

I also filled our home with flowers, scented candles, and toile de jouy prints that sparked joy.

WHEN LIFE AND WORK BECOME A BLUR

I guess the next question is how you lift yourself up from those “emotional five minutes”? I’ve spoken to a lot of my friends about this and it is apparent that we all have different ways of coping. Some have taken on new hobbies like baking and cooking. Others have opted to take care of pets or plants (big hello to all my plantita and plantito friends!) while some have persevered with their daily workout routines to get those endorphin levels up.

I also tried getting into all sorts of hobbies. I baked banana bread when they were all the rage. I even ordered a good selection of herbs in the hopes of growing my own garden. Sadly, I am not a green thumb so I gave that up soon enough.

I realized, though, that my most effective way of coping was focusing my energies on my work handling public relations and influencer strategy for Unilever brands like Pond’s, Cream Silk, TRESemme, Dove, Magnum Comfort, to name a few. So, I worked non-stop, from the moment I woke up to the time I slept, and gave my all to “pivoting” (another overused word during the pandemic!) the way we did things to cater to the evolving needs of the Filipino consumer. 

Now, this actually leads me to another lesson learned, which is to set boundaries and create that work-life balance we all want. I used to believe that one was exclusive of the other, but over the lockdown, they just literally blended into one big blur. Work became life and life became work. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing because everything translates to personal time nowadays.

But burnout is real. So I slowly learned to ease off, not use work as a form of escape and discern when to divide my personal time between work and life. 

In more practical terms, it helps to set working hours, be it for meetings, to answer emails or to just think and strategize. It is also important to take occasional leaves even when I’m just staying home doing absolutely nothing.

CHOOSING A BIT OF HAPPINESS

Once I learned how to create a bit more balance, I happily found the opportunity to enjoy some rediscovered passions and more importantly, connect with loved ones. 

I suddenly found myself fluffing up my home, decluttering and adding little things that made little nooks and crannies look beautiful. I filled every corner with flowers, scented candles and toile de jouy prints that are my forever faves. I also made it a point to create pretty tablescapes, even if it’s just breakfast for two or for very intimate dinners. 

My sources of strength. We remain close and stay connected in spite of the distance.

I finally decided to choose a bit of happiness. I can’t control everything that’s happening around me but I can certainly make a difference in my own little universe. 

Choosing happiness also meant surrounding myself with those I love most. Being locked down and having to practice social distancing does not mean one cannot connect with family and friends. In spite of the distance, it is possible to form stronger bonds.

I have not seen my mom since the lockdown in March and I miss her so much that it hurts. But the irony is I feel as connected to her and maybe even more so than ever. I am thankful for her, my children, partner, family and friends who’ve been my source of strength through all this. I find myself reaching out to make sure they know that I am there for them. But truth be told, I probably need them more.

Which leads me to my last point. And that is to continue to be grateful to God for every little blessing that comes our way. I know it sounds trite but for me, it’s the only way to survive life’s challenges. Whenever I start to feel the negativity creeping in, I try to nip it in the bud and start enumerating the many things I am thankful for.

So, how do I explain the last few months? It has been a period or cleansing and simplification. It has shown me that we really do not need much in life and what defines one’s happiness can be the littlest things. And although this journey and challenge is far from over, hopefully, the past few months have equipped us with the wisdom and strength to deal with what’s to come.