Finding Light in the Darkness of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought many changes to daily life for people all around the world. Lockdowns, transitions to virtual school and work, and limits on physical contact have all had effects on the way people live their lives. While aspects of this new way of life have been tiring for many, some have found appreciation for the changes their lives have undergone. The opportunities to make use of extra time at home, explore new hobbies or interests, or get some more practice in the kitchen were appreciated by many. Just as well, the isolation provided a window for introspection and self-improvement, or a new drive to get outside and appreciate the natural environment. Equally important as these personal improvements are the new experiences had with others. Many have put more effort into spending quality time with their family at home, or with their friends through virtual connections during the pandemic. More broadly, some people have become increasingly empathetic and have made conscious attempts to reach out and better their communities. Of course, not everyone has found a bright side to life in the pandemic. We will consider which respondents have seen positive changes in their lives during COVID-19, then look at some of the most popular aspects of lockdown that people would like to continue as the pandemic subsides.

Out of over 9,000 responses to our COVID Future survey, 24% said that they did not want to continue any of the new ways of living under COVID-19, 42% said that they maybe wanted some to continue, and 34% said that they definitely would like some aspects of their pandemic-induced lifestyle to continue. Over one-third of respondents found something positive in life during the pandemic, and less than one-fourth were certain that they did not. The 76% of respondents that said either ‘Yes’ or ‘Maybe’ to this question were given the option to provide details about exactly which new ways of living they might like to continue.

Whether or not someone was able to find something that they liked about the pandemic varied according to employment status. We found that those that were employed were 1.8 times more likely to say that they enjoyed aspects of pandemic life than those unemployed. Another factor that we looked at was whether the respondent was able to work from home. Nearly 80% of those who wanted to continue some aspects of pandemic life were able to work from home, compared to only 64% of those who said ‘Maybe’, and under 50% of those who said ‘No’ to this question. Generally, ability to work from home was correlated with the ability to find a bright side to the pandemic. For those that did say that they enjoyed some of the new ways of living, what were some of the things that they enjoyed?

Over 2500 respondents indicated that that working from home has been a definite upside during the pandemic, with responses mentioning “More remote work” and “more use of virtual meetings” being commonplace. The benefits of increased online activity don’t stop at the workplace, though, as nearly 1500 respondents also noted that they have enjoyed an increased amount of convenience with new online options for services. This is notable especially when it comes to groceries, where many have enjoyed “going to the grocery store less often” and being able to “order ahead for grocery pickup”.

Ultimately, the use of the internet for work and shopping goes hand-in-hand with spending additional hours in the home. This increased time at home in general has been a big bonus for at least 40 respondents who decided to write in simply “having more time at home” or similar as an aspect of pandemic living that they enjoy. 20% of respondents also specifically mentioned a “slower pace of life” or “better work/life time balance”. Don’t think that this just means people are taking advantage of more time to lounge around or sleep, however. Our respondents wrote that this newfound time has been channeled into developing or exploring hobbies like “growing vegetables at home” or “spending more leisure time in parks”.

One of the most popular at-home hobbies that people have enjoyed during the pandemic has been cooking. Over 1500 people said that they have enjoyed changing their eating habits by cooking more at home, and eating out at restaurants less. This also carries the benefit of saving money. Frugality was another important aspect of pandemic life that 1800 respondents wrote about, from savings on restaurants, to groceries, to online shopping. Specifically, one respondent said they had an easier time “spending less money on discretionary items”.

More time at home, and more time overall, has also opened up new opportunities for human connection. Nearly 30% of the respondents discussed newfound appreciation and opportunities for family time. The connection doesn’t stop at the household, though. Taking advantage of online connectivity during the pandemic, just over 10% wrote that they used technology to socialize with distant friends and relatives, with responses such as “I’d like to continue to Zoom with my friends and family that I don’t see very often”. This is an important way that some of our respondents were staying socially healthy during the pandemic. However, personal health on its own was of great concern to a large group of people as well.

Over 1200 responses made some mention of health, be it increased sanitation, reducing germ exposure, avoiding handshakes or crowds, or greater health awareness. Many respondents specifically were happy to “avoid large gatherings of people”. 23 respondents made explicit mention of improving their own mental health. Another 27% of respondents focused on the physical, discussing how they used the pandemic as an opportunity to spend more time exercising, through all sorts of avenues such as “weights, walking, etc.,” as one respondent wrote.

Among the ways of living that people have enjoyed during the pandemic, the most popular response behind work-from-home was travel. Over half of the respondents wrote about a positive change in their daily travel patterns due to the pandemic. Some simply enjoyed not having a commute. Others were pleased to see less traffic on the roads. And a significant number began to enjoy biking and walking more. Of course, with all of this change in travel behavior, it is likely that we will see a ripple effect on traffic congestion, the environment, and physical health.

The environmental improvements caused by decreased car travel and other pandemic lifestyle changes have not gone unnoticed. 54 respondents enjoyed the improvements to the environment that have occurred during the pandemic, such as better air quality. More broadly, environmentalism was one of a number of social and political issues that were on our respondents’ minds. Almost one-tenth of respondents discussed what they believed to be very pressing problems in our society – from community well-being, to welfare programs, to the healthcare system. For example, one person wrote, “I hope as a society we become more accepting of illnesses and have more empathy for situations outside of other’s [sic] control”.

It is worth noting that most of the upsides of the pandemic were not equally enjoyed by all, with most positives of the pandemic able to be enjoyed more by employed individuals who were able to work from home.

That being said, if one thing has become clear through all of this, it is that people have found a multitude of different ways to see light in the darkness. From spending more quality time with family to devoting time to a home garden for at-home-cooking to seeing bluer skies because of less pollution, there was no shortage of ways for people to make the most out of the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the pandemic, people have explored different forms of work and interaction, new hobbies, and alternative modes of transportation. It is possible that through this exploration, some of these trends will become more commonplace. In particular, increased rates of walking and biking are expected to persist.

Whether or not all of these carry on to be mainstays in daily life after COVID-19, it is still remarkable that so many people could find something worth pursuing and delighting in, even in such a tremendously difficult time.

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