The anatomy of joy — a deeper look at happiness in the era of COVID

A study that has been ongoing for over 80 years has been looking to find the recipe for joy and happiness. By tracking the emotional and physical wellbeing of two groups (one from a poor neighborhood, and one batch of Harvard graduates), the answer was resounding in all participants: deep meaningful relationships make you healthier, happier, and likely to live longer.

Humans evolved through community and we continue to survive because of it today. It’s funny, in an age where self-care, meditation, and all sorts of fitness crazes are billed at the top of the emotional pyramid, at the end of the day we just need a hug or kind word from someone who cares.

“Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health — rivaling the effect of well-established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity, and physical activity” – House, Landis, and Umberson, Social Relationships and Health

This primordial need for social closeness has been of much discussion in the past few months of COVID-19. How can you be close when you need to be socially distant?

Video, replacing real interactions?

No, this is not another article that talks about the Zoom, Skype, MS Teams insurgence, and the importance of connecting. BUT, what is incredibly interesting is the why behind it. Research estimates that 70 to 93% of all communication is non-verbal. This means your tone of voice, posture, facial expressions says so much more than our empty words.

Whether through work or communicating with friends and family, video calls have taken on a life of their own. Speaking from personal experience, especially in a scenario where I moved to a new country a month before lockdown, video has been my savior in connecting with those close to me.

But it’s not just the weekend calls to family and friends where video plays a role, but daily use of social media and media consumption. Over the first quarter of 2020, TikTok saw 315 million downloads, the most installs for any app ever in a single quarter. In all likelihood, you’re either on the app recording funny dances, or your mom is sending you clips on Whatsapp.

Although I said this is not an article on Zoom, digital transformation, or the power of video conferencing, I have to add that the company saw a growth of 2000% from January to June.

It almost makes you think what all this means for the future of communication, and even more so, those deep and meaningful relationships …

It’s not all about a gloomy postapocalyptic digitized future

It’s certainly been a strange year for relationships. We know we need people in our lives to be healthier and happier. But to keep those people safe, most of us have been forced to stay away from them.

Yes, video has played a big part in bridging that gap. I’m more inclined to talk about the grand gestures of love.

Nothing talks about the value of a deep and personal connection more than the “cuddle curtain”, an invention that has been seen and used across the globe after a British man invented it to hug his gran.

The humble hug has shown to decrease blood pressure and reduces stress and the likelihood of illness over and above making us happier.

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” – Virginia Satir, family therapist

By all means, listen to local health authorities and maintain your distance if it’s in your or anyone else’s best interests. But also take a moment to think of the important people in your life and how those connections are responsible for adding joy.

When it’s safe, hug them. Hug them with all the love in the world. After all, it’s a healthy thing to do.

Cape Town – Vancouver