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Happiness in the Age of COVID

By Scott Hamilton, M.D.
April 19, 2020

The Advocate newspaper carries a column on parenting by child psychologist John Rosemond. I’ll herald the latest installment to my wife: “Hey Honey, cranky ol’ Dr. Rosemond is at it again!” He’s oldschool, children-should-be-seen-and-notheard, hard-work-is-its-own-reward, etc. While not exactly advocating that kids work 14-hour shifts in textile mills, he likes to cast doubt on such “modern” diagnoses as ADHD.

He sometimes makes good points. His column “Why Some People Believe That They Are Entitled,” speaks to the erosion of happiness in the age of COVID. Entitlement is the idea that you deserve happiness, wealth and success, whether you’ve earned it or not. According to Rosemond, recent generations have raised kids to think like European royalty, that they’re more special than everyone else, and thus entitled. Even cheating to get what you want is okay, since you’re above the rules meant for commoners.

Many argue that instilling a sense of entitlement, and generally spoiling children, has led to the rise in depression and suicidality in kids and teens. When kids don’t get their way in the real world with other kids or adults, they’re profoundly disappointed – their world-revolves-around-me view shattered. Now with social distancing, travelling restricted and the economy tanking, few adults are getting their way anymore either.

With loss of work and freedom, people are bored, depressed and full of anxiety that they or their loved ones will get seriously ill. Many raised in the land of plenty are, like spoiled toddlers, now profoundly disappointed with life. However, many others, in the search for meaning in this new age, have taken action. They’ve started life-affirming tasks like learning new skills such as a new language or cooking; spending more time with their kids (and parents!), making masks and delivering food to healthcare workers and shut-ins, and donating blood. John Rosemond is right, at least about this aspect of parenting. Kids should learn that being useful, moral and hardworking are more important than striving to be happy and successful. Then strangely enough, the pursuit of character begats happiness anyway – especially in the Age of COVID.

Another pillar of happiness is being connected with others. While last week we discussed that hard work and a meaningful life lead to happiness, social interaction helps too. Before the invention of telephones in 1876, people communicated by writing letters. Also in those days, early death was a constant. About one quarter of infants died
before their first birthday, and almost half of children died before puberty. The average adult was lucky to live past 40. Thus, letters between distant family members often
started with “I hope this letter finds you well,” followed by a summary of the health of those at home.

That was the snail’s pace of life, death and communication in the Age of Enlightenment. Thanks to the internet, with email and social media, the above sentiments are transmitted instantly. I’ve gotten scads of electronic messages from near and far asking me if I’m okay on the “front lines” in the Emergency Department. At home, we’ve been Facetiming a lot with my daughter in Seattle and my son in New Orleans. Though it’s a good time for the internet, with it keeping us connected and informed, the net’s also a two-edged sword in these respects. Hateful and divisive posts on social media come at us instantly as well. Nothing gets people fired up, and not in a good way, like a skewed political post claiming the other side is criminal or incompetent.

Misinformation spreads quickly, too. For example, there’s many posts about how influenza, the plain old flu, has caused many more deaths than COVID, and yet we never
tanked the economy by closing schools and businesses during flu season. What they don’t mention is that COVID threatens to cause even more deaths than influenza, since it’s more deadly to individual patients, may be even more contagious and has no vaccine or anti-viral medication to check its spread. The only way to stop it and save lives?

Closures and social distancing. So for information on keeping you and your kids safe, please use expert sources without political or social agendas: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics ( These places will give you the straight scoop as it becomes known, without an extra
helping of anger to dampen your happiness.