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“Is It Selfish, Shallow, or Frivolous to Worry About Your Own State of Mind During a Pandemic?”

It may seem callous and self-centered to think about our individual concerns in this time of global crisis. However, research shows that if I’m happier, calmer, and more focused, I’ll help the other people in my household — my husband, two daughters, and our dog — to be the same.

Woman at home looking out window

We’re in the midst of a world crisis. There’s uncertainty, fear, anxiety, death, devastation. With everything that’s going on in the world, is it selfish to spend one minute thinking about trying to stay calm, or exercise, or work on my Ph.D. thesis? In a world so full of suffering, is it callous and self-centered to think about our individual concerns?

Those are understandable and worthy questions.

And, of course, many people — far too many people — don’t have this concern right now. Healthcare workers, essential workers, single parents, people who have lost their jobs… so many people are in such taxing circumstances that they’re just trying to get through the day. No words can express the debt that we all owe to them.

And many people are sick, or caring for those who are sick, so the days are consumed with those concerns.

But, for now, many of us are safe at home and we’re not going anywhere for a while. Is it selfish to think about how to be happier, calmer, more energetic, more focused?

[Click to Read: “What I Learned About My ADHD Brain on Quarantine”]

My Happiness Leads to Your Happiness

In fact, research shows — and common experience confirms — that happiness is not selfish. Research shows that when we’re feeling happier, we’re more interested in helping others and in taking action in the world. We’re more likely to help other people, volunteer more time, give more money to charity, be more forgiving, have better self-control, stay more tolerant of frustration, to vote, to act as better team members and better leaders, and to become more interested in tackling social problems.

This makes sense. It takes emotional energy to turn outward to think about the problems of other people and the problems of the world. It’s the airplane cliché: “Put on your own oxygen mask first.”

Now, at a time like this, it’s not possible for most of us to be truly happy. It’s a terrible time of global catastrophe. That’s the reality. But we can all take steps, within our own situation, to be as happy, calm, and energetic as possible under our own circumstances.

And by doing so, we help ourselves to weather this crisis more effectively, and we also strengthen ourselves to be more helpful to others and our community — now, and in the days to come.

[Read This: Now Is the Time for Realistic Expectations (and More ADHD Advice for a Pandemic)]

So, no, it’s not selfish to ask, “What can I do to get better sleep? How can I get some exercise when I’m safe at home for weeks? What activities will help me calm down when I feel frantic about paying the bills? How do I focus on my work when I’m so worried?”

By taking steps — actions within our own power — to take care of our bodies, connect with other people, and give ourselves mental breaks from the worries of the day, we help ourselves stay strong to deal with what’s coming — and by doing so, we help ourselves stay strong to take care of other people.

This situation is going to continue for a long time. So much is unknown. We need the stamina to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Sometimes people say, “I don’t want to worry about myself; I care about others.” But this is a false choice, and a misleading choice. We can work to support our well being, and, at the same time, work to support the well being of others.

Home (Not) Alone

For instance, many of us are spending enormous amounts of time with family members. I’m home with my husband, two daughters, and dog. Because of the psychological phenomenon of “emotional contagion,” we catch emotions from other people. If I’m happier and calmer, I’ll help the other people in my household to stay happier and calmer. I’ll have the energy to reach out to people who need support. I’ll have the self-discipline to wash my hands over and over, and to resist making unnecessary trips to the grocery store.

One of the greatest elements of a happier life is gratitude. And one of the unexpected consequences of this time is that I’m more awash in gratitude than I’ve ever been in my life. For instance, I’m so grateful for all the brave people doing essential work every day. Every night at 7 pm, I love hearing the cheers ring out across New York City as we all honor their work.

I’m so intensely grateful for so many things that I’d never before considered. It feels like bad luck even to list all the things I’m grateful for right now.

In dealing with this crisis, we have a long way to go. By doing what we can to manage our own states of mind, we strengthen ourselves to deal with the current situation, and what lies ahead.

We also better equip ourselves to help other people face the challenges that lie ahead.

Together we can get through this tremendously difficult period as best we can, to face the future with determination and fortitude.

[Read This Next: On Piloting My ADHD Brain Through This Pandemic]

This article was written by Gretchen Rubin and appeared first on on April 6. The author has granted ADDitude permission to post the content to

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