Before March of this year, the words “lockdown” and “pandemic” and “quarantine” were words that belonged mainly in sci-fi movies, maybe ones with a dystopian focus. And yet, now, those words belong to our daily life, and probably will for a while. We’ve adopted those words into our vocabulary—although I’d argue they still feel like they belong to a sci-fi movie with a dystopian focus, and now we just live in said sci-fi movie with a dystopian focus.
Really, though, lockdowns changed us, beyond expanding our vocabulary. As the world shut down, seemingly overnight, we were forced to adjust our habits and routines. Whether we were privileged enough to be able to shift to a stay-at-home life or suddenly found ourselves touted as essential workers, we were required to make changes to how we lived, to develop new habits, either by consequence or choice.
And now lockdowns are lifting and states are re-opening, and some people are heading back out into the world—hopefully with a mask on because the virus isn’t gone—and once again our way of life is changing. Our habits are adapting…or not.
We’ve probably all developed a few habits that we are ready to shed as we emerge into the world. Waking up and checking the daily state and local COVID-19 statistics is one I’m personally ready to give up.
But there are more than a few habits that we’ve all adopted that are here to stay. Hand washing, obviously (hopefully), not touching our faces, giving each other space in the grocery store, are some no-brainers. But there are a few less obvious, a bit more quirky habits, too. Every morning now, along with my news perusal and daily COVID-19 numbers check, I do the mini New York Times crossword puzzle. It takes all of one minute and gives me a zing of early morning accomplishment. For my children, I have a feeling they are hoping to hang onto the habit of having dessert after every meal—yes, to be clear that’s breakfast dessert, lunch dessert, and dinner dessert.
I put the question out to my social media: what habits have you adopted since or because of quarantine that you don’t want to drop once quarantine is over? A few answers stood out. One friend began remaking famous movie scenes with his toddlers to pass the time—and really, it might be the habit that wins all quarantine habits. Another friend began gardening, while a handful more found joy in creative meal and cocktail planning. But very quickly, a few patterns began to emerge.
From family dinners to family walks and family bike rides or board games, nearly everyone seemed to be spending more time with their family and didn’t want to lose that time or those activities once lockdowns were lifted and their options weren’t limited to just spending time with their family on isolated hiking trails.
Less Waste, Less Consumption, Less Doing
In many ways, lockdowns required us all to do so much more. In addition to our jobs that needed no less focus and drive when done from home, we also needed to become homeschool teachers (though I really prefer the term crisis school teachers), all while managing our pandemic anxiety. But many of the people who responded to my query seemed to be find themselves doing less of everything else. Eating more leftovers and wasting less food. Foregoing the usual hair products and releasing some of the need to follow a schedule. Even as lockdowns lift, the consensus seemed to be toward more leftovers and less hair products.
More time at home meant more time people were able to find for themselves, whether by carving out an hour for that (virtual) exercise class that never quite fit into the daily grind, meditation practices, or even mindfulness, and they don’t want to surrender that freshly carved out time just because things around them are re-opening.
Even being able to take the time to reflect on what matters is a habit we maybe should all hang on to, in the days after lockdown and beyond.
Vox asked readers across the world what changes they wanted to hold onto as they emerged from quarantine, and many were in line with the answers I found in my tiny sample size. It seems across the board, as we take those first tentative steps into a post-lockdown world, we all want to hold onto the habits that gave us room to feel grounded when it was so easy to feel lost, or feel like we could slow down when the world seemed to be taking every turn too fast.
Without a doubt, having the ability to slow down during these times is a privilege. Staying safe at home and being able to take the time saved on commuting and shuttered athletic tournaments and put it toward family walks and board games is a privilege not everyone was able to enjoy.
Which brings me to the final habit that many of us cultivated in lockdown, and it’s the thread that seems to be running through every answer to my question. And that is: a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for our families, for our friends, for our health and the health of our loved ones, for the people who kept things moving when it could have all fallen apart.
I would venture to say all of us hope to bring that habit, that feeling gratitude, with us into whatever version of normal awaits outside of lockdown.