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Has lockdown altered our perception of happiness?

Two University of Brighton researchers believe the societal changes caused by lockdown may be changing how we define being happy.

Dr Emma Anderson and Dr Charlie Lea, both Senior Lecturers in Psychology, have been combining their different research approaches to examine social media posts before, during and after the Covid-19 lockdown to map out how the public have talked about happiness to see whether it has shifted.

photo of Dr Emma AndersonWriting in The Conversation, Dr Anderson (in photo) argues that contemporary approaches to happiness tend to frame it as an ‘inside job’, to be worked on individually through techniques such as mindfulness, adjusting attitudes, and making “good” choices.

However, this can work to obscure social contributors to unhappiness such as injustice, marginalisation, debt, low-wage exploitation and rising cost of living. Since Covid-19, though, ‘responsible’ citizenship “seems to have become more associated with building community and looking out for each other.”

Although how people define happiness is subjective, the pandemic has forced many to take a step back and review some of the simpler things in life. In the article, Dr Anderson wrote: “The separation from friends and family, from our workplaces and from public life may have sparked a shift towards a more social, outward-facing view of wellbeing. Many people have felt the insecurity of losing jobs or income, perhaps for the first time. Alongside our reliance on key workers, our interdependence has become hard to ignore.

“So as the world returns to shopping, travelling and consuming, we return also to growing food insecurity, unemployment and debt. In the face of this, it is perhaps more important now than ever that the mutual aid groups, renewed sense of community and activism, and more outward-looking version of wellbeing continues and thrives.”

Dr Anderson’s research collaborator at the university, Dr Lea, recently followed up her colleague’s article with an appearance on TRT World’s ‘Roundtable’ programme in a discussion on ‘what makes us happy?’.

photo of Dr Charlie LeaDr Lea (in photo) said: “People might be not only evaluating their own lives differently but also seeing happiness as something more social. The social environment may have changed, there’s a we’re all in it together mentality, there’s increased mutual aid, increased volunteering groups, people are helping each other and looking out for each other.

“The disruption of lockdown may have changed how people talk about and conceptualise their own version of happiness.”

On the programme, Dr Lea later asked the question: “Is happiness something that we as an individual are responsible for…or should the community, the world at large, society, our social environment, be providing us with a better world to live in?”

The researchers claim that the social changes resulting from public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic offer a unique opportunity for their ongoing investigation into whether the lockdown has led to a shift in how happiness is understood.

Find out more about Dr Anderson and Dr Lea’s research.

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