NEWS Coronavirus News Learning to Be Happy Again as the Pandemic's End Becomes a Possibility By Sarah Fielding Sarah Fielding LinkedIn Twitter Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health and women's issues. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 30, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Nicholas Blackmer Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer LinkedIn Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact-checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content. He keeps a DSM-5 on hand just in case. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight Key Takeaways After spending over a year in a near-constant state of fear and sadness, the idea of discovering happiness post-pandemic can be both difficult to fathom and scary to chase.Mental illness has increased during the pandemic, including post-traumatic stress disorder. In a recent study of healthcare workers, researchers found that 22.8% of participants had probable PTSD.Slowly explore what makes you happy now, such as certain people, restaurants, and music. By easing into joy, the process may not feel so overwhelming. It has been over a year since the world went into lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic upended life as we knew it. In that time, everyday routines, sources of joy, and relationships have changed, often leaving little room for happiness. In its place, fear and sadness have become constant companions for many people, felt so often that they become base emotions. Throughout the pandemic, a common refrain became “when this is all over.” Used to discuss everything from when you’ll see loved ones to when life will be better, it firmly declares that everything will improve post-pandemic. While danger levels will subside and people will have greater control over their lives, the pandemic’s end will not flip a mental switch, telling fear and sadness it’s time to go. Even as we so desperately seek out happiness and a greater future, these emotions have become comfortable. Leaving them behind can not only be scary, but hard to navigate. Let’s start with the trepidation aspect. With the pandemic’s uncertainty and continual disappointment, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about the future—even with a vaccine in your arm. “Sometimes people stop seeking happiness after a while because staying in a state of fear and sadness is easier than having your emotions bounced around every time something happens,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, author of Understanding Bipolar Disorder. After being denied the happiness you’ve sought for so long, going out in search of it can feel like a risk or too good to be true. Aimee Daramus, PsyD If it feels scary, start with things that are always going to be there, like a favorite piece of artwork or a favorite album. Go back to familiar spaces that you missed, like a favorite museum or restaurant. Let yourself be fully present for all of the pleasure that you get out of it. — Aimee Daramus, PsyD As for navigating the journey towards happiness, you may notice some of your previous guideposts are gone. People, places, and experiences you derived joy from may no longer be around. Your old routines are no longer familiar, and they can be intimidating after isolating for so long. “Folks adapted to their new lives of less stimulation, less social contact, and more personal time. This became the baseline for daily life,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “The idea of transitioning to a more chaotic or stimulating style of life is a harder transition to make. Many social skills have atrophied as folks’ threshold for stimulation has lowered significantly.” How to Navigate a Complicated Post-Pandemic World Why Happiness May Be Difficult to Find Before delving further into the barriers to happiness, it’s critical to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with you if you are not finding immediate happiness as things improve. “I advise my patients to welcome feelings of all kinds with an open mind and compassion,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California's largest outpatient mental health organization. “Individuals tend to experience a large amount of shame and guilt and blame themselves for each and every emotion they experience,” she says. Instead of becoming more distressed over why you’re not overwhelmed with happiness, explore what the root cause may be. You’re Recovering From Trauma Remember: You feel fear and sadness for a reason. The world has collectively gone through an elongated trauma and the second it begins to recede is not the day its effects stop radiating. After being in fight or flight mode for so long, your body may be working to stay anxious as a way of keeping you safe, says Daramus. Think about it: If you broke your leg, would you feel better the day you go to the doctor? No, you need to care for it, wear a cast, maybe attend physical therapy, and learn to bear weight again. Your mental health is injured. Give it time to adjust and handle the weight of happiness again. Leela Magavi, MD Some individuals have adopted new interests and hobbies during the pandemic. Many people have prioritized different areas of life and may experience disinterest in things they once enjoyed prior to the pandemic. — Leela Magavi, MD Your Interests Have Changed Over the course of a typical year-plus, you might explore new interests and leave others behind. The pandemic has forced priorities and methods of entertainment to change even more rapidly. What you used to enjoy may not do it for you anymore. “Some individuals have adopted new interests and hobbies during the pandemic. Many people have prioritized different areas of life and may experience disinterest in things they once enjoyed prior to the pandemic,” says Magavi. For example, you may have eagerly waited for bars to reopen, only to step in one and realize you would rather be back at home. Or maybe you were eager to travel again, only to find planes overwhelming. These changes are normal after such a long period and, while some interests may return, others you developed during the pandemic may take their place. As Romanoff explains, “Folks have changed tremendously during the last 12 months. For many, the pandemic allowed a recalibration of lifestyle and values that will likely extend to life post-pandemic.” Sadness Keeps You Connected to Those Lost Being happy can feel like a betrayal of loved ones who passed and the collective loss experienced. “It’s a way to hold on to memories,” says Daramus. “If you’ve lost someone, staying down can be a way of staying connected to that person while you grieve.” Moving on without them is a challenging process. You May Have a Mental Health Condition The difficult emotions you feel may be indicative of a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Reported cases of mental illness have increased during the pandemic. In a December 2020 study, 42% of U.S. adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, compared to 11% between January and June 2019. In a February 2021 study, 22.8% of U.S. healthcare workers had probable PTSD. “If individuals are significantly depressed, they may experience anhedonia or loss of interest in partaking in once-preferred activities,” says Magavi. “Individuals with significant mood and anxiety concerns and feelings of sadness and demoralization, which affect their functionality, should consider scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist.” Adapting to Post-Pandemic Reality When You Have Social Anxiety Exploring Happiness Again It may take time to learn where happiness now exists for you. As you leave the state of constant fear and sadness behind and enter the unknown journey to joy, start small. You don’t need to go to a party immediately or plan a vacation. Instead, Daramus suggests focusing on your sensory experiences, such as petting an animal or listening to your favorite music. Magavi recommends taking a mindful walk or another physical activity that boosts endorphins. “If it feels scary, start with things that are always going to be there, like a favorite piece of artwork or a favorite album. Go back to familiar spaces that you missed, like a favorite museum or restaurant. Let yourself be fully present for all of the pleasure that you get out of it,” says Daramus. “Mindfulness isn’t just a health practice, it allows you to truly savor life. Then, as you start to believe in happiness again, take more chances.” Journaling about experiences you’ve enjoyed and practicing gratitude for yourself, loved ones, and opportunities you have can help you get there, says Magavi. Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD Folks adapted to their new lives of less stimulation, less social contact, and more personal time. This became the baseline for daily life. The idea of transitioning to a more chaotic or stimulating style of life is a harder transition to make. Many social skills have atrophied as folks’ threshold for stimulation has lowered significantly. — Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD As you explore your happiness, remember that each feeling you have is valid. Try not to compare yourself to others or how you think you should feel, says Romanoff. Each person will recover from the pandemic’s trauma and readjust at their own pace. “You can learn to let the grayness of pandemic life provide a contrast that lets you take more joy in things that provide color to your life again.” Daramus. What This Means For You It’s not wrong to feel sad or not feel happiness as quickly as you expected. “We aren’t meant to always be happy. Often the emotions that occur beyond happiness are just as important and allow us to experience vital processes like processing the loss of life during the pandemic,” says Romanoff. Just like before the pandemic, you will have happy and sad moments as you move throughout the trials and joys of life. Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can build mental strength after the pandemic. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page. 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Abbott A. COVID's mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression. Nature. 2021;590(7845):194-195. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-00175-z Hennein R, Mew EJ, Lowe SR. Socio-ecological predictors of mental health outcomes among healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. PLOS ONE. 2021;16(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0246602 See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.