Every generation talks about their triumphs and all the tribulations that they have experienced. From the Greatest Generation to the Silent Generation and then to Boomers, each spouts their own recollections of fear and hurt on the world stage. But no generation before Gen X, Y, and Z can assert that they have been through something comparable to mass unemployment, rapidly augmenting political polarisation, the impending existential threat that is climate change, all while dealing with increasing armament and growing hostility of nation-states. Across the world, those aged 35 to those just learning to walk have been dealt a very bad hand in a card game they didn’t even realise they were playing.
I know personally that I could use a hug right now. I don’t know when I will get the chance to see my family again, to whom I am very close. I can’t foresee myself being intimate with anyone in the near future, let alone being able find a partner. Not to mention, that being as extroverted as I am, I have seriously considered investing in blue-light-blocking glasses in an attempt to avoid a headache – after Skyping with friends, after also video chatting into class while keeping abreast of my compulsory online readings. For those with chronic mental illness such as myself, this can be an incredibly debilitating time, and even those who do not have mental health issues find themselves overwhelmed and dejected.
While our misery is obvious, going about how to mitigate that is not as clear. Even if we have ideas of how to increase the quality of our lives during this pandemic, they don’t seem as easily implementable. This summer, after a massive breakup, a diagnosis of potentially degenerative neuropathy, and therapy sessions twice weekly to sort out some past trauma, I decided to enroll in Yale’s “Science of Happiness” course for an extra dose of serotonin. Although I found some of the content monotonous, it was beyond helpful to have someone reiterate all of the ways that we can foster joy and lasting contentment within ourselves. The content I will include is not comprehensive, so feel free to get creative with how to keep yourself happy and healthy! I hope that I can galvanise those of you reading this to give a little extra love to yourself and others in the months to come, and that this wee article will have a lasting positive ripple effect to help us all flourish.
Tending to your own garden:
Plants need sustenance, cycles, space, and fresh air. Whether you view yourself as a spicy pepper stalk or a demure sage bush, the anthropomorphic analogy remains the same.
For starters, regarding cycles, I have found that getting on a schedule is one of the most difficult goals I have set for myself, and to be frank, it still has been unsuccessful. Regardless, in such unstable times, our innate need for patterns and consistency should be prioritised to catalyse better moods and daily functioning. This includes prioritising sleep at a reasonable hour while also not repeatedly hitting the snooze button. I am looking at you, fellow night owls..!
When plants are tightly packed, they have trouble competing for resources or can suffer from root rot. Just like them, we need space to breathe and delight in our own space. Manifest Marie Kondo’s energy by cleaning your room and decluttering your desk. Even making your bed can have set your day up for success. Success, we should be clear, is not your labour output to the University or society. Here, I define success by the satisfaction you feel and make others feel in turn…
Nurturing of plants takes periods of persistence and patience… Give yourself that same time to prune what needs to be pruned and to relax and revel in whatever makes your life sunny. Allocate some time for meditation. A little bit of it, consistently practiced, goes a long way. There are other ways to ground yourself too. Retreat into nature and stroll down Lade Braes. I have found that dancing unabashedly to some of your favourite tunes, barefoot on West Sands, is cathartic. Even dipping your feet in or submerging your whole body is a form of cognitive ablution. Being able to focus on nothing but the cold is recentring to say the least. In this vein, exercise is just as effective as it releases all of those fun and funky neurochemicals and grounds you. Not to mention that fresh air has been proven scientifically to increase your energy levels.
As much as our gardens benefit from our tender, loving care, we gather so much happiness from each individual bloom that we witness. It is a fully synergetic relationship if we allow it to be. Fostering this reciprocity is just as evident outside your plant bed. Your light and vibrance can add so much fragrance to another’s life and your intrinsic worth is limitless. So let’s dig in to help make your plot a communal one.
In these almost-dissociative times, we are living in our own bubbles, which is only exacerbated by the ethos of the exclusivity of the St Andrews “bubble.” It is crucial that we break out of that cyclical and generational individuality that is embossed within the very infrastructure of this town. Moreover, some people don’t have the monetary or special means to access technology or to be on it as much as we are. So with that said, and I cannot stress this enough… Legitimately engage with others when you can! If you’re going to the Union café to grab coffee with a friend, ask the barista how their day is going. When at the shops, strike up a discussion with the cashier about their shift and how they are doing. Compliment (not catcall) someone, anyone, on their outfit or their smile or their eyes or the way they laugh. Hold the door for the person behind you and express sincere gratitude when another being performs a simple kindly gesture for you. Perhaps even fill out one of those customer service surveys for someone who made your day a bit better. And don’t forget to smile at that stranger on the street, especially if they are in their own little world or appear grouchy. It’s worth reiterating that we never know what others are going through and the layers and layers of manure that is being piled onto their turf.
Consider volunteering through St Andrews Voluntary Service! While applications have closed, many Project Officers (myself included) would be happy to squeeze you into an opportunity for volunteering. Spending time with dogs and cats is an excellent means of having a rewarding experience and adding a little colour to somebody’s future furry family member. This is also an especially difficult time for the elderly and immunocompromised, so getting involved in these areas would prove to be symbiotic as well. In my experience, geriatrics always provide the best craic! For those of you who may not be in St Andrews, consider getting involved in your local community. Macroscopic change often can begin on the micro and mesoscopic, so get creative with how you allocate your time and energy to a cause you’re passionate about! Additionally, keep an eye out for the SVS’s upcoming Mental Health Awareness Day event on October the 10th!
Fun, flowery facts:
Tragedy often sells, right? We are constantly bombarded with tragic event after tragic event on our screens and print media. In an especially abysmal time, it is critical to remind all of us of the hope and kindness and magic all around us.
- A “nurdle” is the official name for the dash of toothpaste on your toothbrush.
- Squirrels plant hundreds of thousands of trees per annum, as they forget where they have buried their reserve of nuts.
- Primates, seahorses, and otters are some other animals that hold hands (or tails) with their mates.
- Plants can identify their relatives and offer preferential treatment, competing less for precious nutrients and root space than when bordered by plants that do not originate from the same mother plant.
- Forcing yourself to laugh most often catalyses actual laughter (try this in public to really unnerve people).
- A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.
- Move aside, Kate Bush…. Scotland has over 400 words for “snow.” But wait, come back, Kate!!
- Goats literally have accents and dialects.
- It should go without saying that we need to examine and honor Subaltern cultures more often, but we could especially take a page from Bhutan’s book given that they measure the “Gross National Happiness” of their society.
- The matter we are made of is from imploding suns, and by proxy, we are made of stardust.