Studies Show New Priorities for Compassion, Community and Career—And a Bright Future

April 27, 2022

Sweeping research suggests the future is bright and we are rethinking, resetting and reimagining our futures for the better. Hope and optimism are increasing, connections with friends and family are strengthening and we are re-prioritizing toward what matters to us most.

Beyond just coping, we can build resilience through tough times and tap into post traumatic growth. In addition, when we go through difficult situations, we tend to strengthen our bonds with each other. This increased resilience and increased bonding certainly seem to be realities for us, based on studies by The Harris Poll which conducted 55 waves of surveys including more than 114,000 respondents, and which led another survey about priorities conducted on behalf of Waking Up.

There is good news and great advice which emerges through the findings.

Optimism

We are getting through. Fully 64% of study participants say the worst is behind us and this percentage has improved since earlier in the year. In addition, 58% of people say they can see the light at the end of the tunnel—a big improvement from early in the year when 71% of people thought the worst was yet to come.

Through it all, respondents are validating what matters most, with 41% of people saying they discovered “the things in life that really matter to me” and 46% saying “I learned how to enjoy the small things.”

Impact: Happiness is correlated with gratitude and optimism. Through hard times, we can stay optimistic and focus on the things that matter most, and be grateful for them.

Friends and Family

According to the studies, we have also reinforced our appreciation for family. A strong majority (72%) say family is more important now as compared to before the pandemic, and adults between ages 35-54 (78%) are most likely to feel this way. In addition, people are grateful: 68% say they feel thankful for their families, relationships and the sacrifices people have made for coronavirus. While some report feeling angry (43%) or annoyed (26%), the 68% who feel grateful outpace those who feel more negatively. 53% of people also say they’ve “learned how to live better with people in my household.”

There is also evidence for people putting a greater priority on friendship. According to 57% of people, their social networks became smaller, but also more connected. And 31% report they’ve learned who they could count on and trust most. In addition, 43% say they plan to stay more connected with friends and family after the pandemic, and 46% are more likely to reconnect with people they’ve lost touch with, compared with their intentions pre-pandemic. The majority of people (62%) expect friendships to become closer in the future.

But the pandemic has also put the quality of friendships in sharper relief with 33% realizing they didn’t want to spend time with friends who didn’t add value to their life and 48% dropping friendships that were no longer serving them.

Impact: We are happiest when we feel most connected with family and friends and an emphasis on the quality of our relationships and intentionally making time to stay in touch is sure to have a strong positive impact going forward.

Sharing and Caring

People are also reporting their community is increasingly important, with 38% saying it’s more important now as compared with their priorities pre-pandemic. Just under half (45%) of people say religion and connections with their religious community are more important now, and 45% of people say they have become closer with their neighbors as well. In fact, 67% are feeling more compassionate and taking time to check in with people around them. This is also aligned with giving: 76% of people plan to continue to support the charities they’ve been supporting during the pandemic.

Impact: Neuroscience demonstrates we are wired for connections and when we’re in positive relationships with others, our brains release feel-good chemicals. In addition, empathy is part of the human condition—feeling for others and expressing care—and there is significant evidence that it is beneficial. Going through hard times provides a window into human need, and also the opportunity for us to offer compassion and help to others.  

Trying Something New

When we go through hard times, we’re forced to cope and tap into new capabilities. This can also motivate new senses of exploration and adventure. Travel is one way to accomplish this, and 37% of say travel is more important to them now as compared to before the pandemic. Adventure is on our minds as well: 16% of respondents say they are more likely to go skydiving now compared to pre-pandemic interest.

People are also interested in increasing their skills and learning new things. They report interest in developing everything from cooking skills to guitar acumen. This is evidenced by the over 50 million course enrollments with Coursera, a 444% increase over the prior year.

Impact: When we’re happier, we tend to set bigger goals and we’re more likely to reach them. In addition, when we stretch, try new things and solve problems outside of our comfort zones we tend to thrive and experience more happiness. The pandemic has opened doors for expanded thinking and greater exploration—and this bodes well for our positive experiences.

Mental and Physical Health

Many are also reporting they are prioritizing mental and physical health and plan to take better care of themselves going forward.

A majority of people (67%) say their mental health is more important now compared to before the pandemic. Women (71%) are most likely to express this sentiment. The importance of mental health also seems to be paying off in terms of mental and emotional resilience with 32% of people saying they are mentally and emotionally stronger than they thought and 33% saying they have become more self-sufficient and independent since the start of the pandemic.

Physical health is also on the radar screen. A strong majority (71%) of people say their physical health is more important now compared to before the pandemic, and people in the age range of 35-54 (76%) are most likely to report this priority. Overall, 42% of respondents expect to stay more physically active going forward.

Impact: Wellbeing is holistic, encompassing physical, cognitive and emotional health, and it is critical to our happiness and fulfillment as humans. Greater mental and emotional resilience and increased commitment to constructive habits have positive impacts for people and also for communities as we’re more able to bring our best forward, from a foundation of positive wellbeing.

Career

With the total upset of how we work and where we work, people are reconsidering their careers. Many respondents (43%) say their career is more important now than it was before the pandemic. This re-prioritization has caused some people to re-think their satisfaction with their current jobs with 23% saying they are more likely to quit their job now compared to before the pandemic. This sentiment is most prevalent among men (27%) and among those ages 18-34 (30%).

People are also feeling an increased entrepreneurial spirit with 26% saying they are more likely to start a business now compared to pre-pandemic. This feeling was most prevalent among those in the age group of 18-44 (42%).

Impact: We all have an instinct to matter, and work is a fundamental way we contribute our skills, talents and gifts to a broader purpose. The “fresh air effect” suggests we may be feeling a desire to expand our professional contributions or find a greener field in another organization. This is a time for all kinds of new beginnings, including for our work.

In Sum
We’ve all had ups and downs through the pandemic. Sometimes it feels like we’re coping admirably and other times we may have felt pessimist or cynical. But overall, the news is good, and we can reset, reimagine and proceed with optimism and hope. Exploring new places, learning new skills, trying new experiences (like skydiving!) and expanding our careers will add to the richness of our experience. But even more significantly, renewed connections with our people, new intentionality toward our wellbeing and expanded resilience suggest a very bright future for all of us.

Finally, keep perspective. There is a saying, “Everything will work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end yet.” Remind yourself the hard stuff will pass, and you will get through it. Focus on the future and keep the end in mind. Even if you don’t know how the comprehensive solutions to your biggest problems, just take the next logical step to keep moving forward.

 

- Tracy Brower, PhD, author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work

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