I grew up being told I had a cat allergy. In October 2014, when my future wife Anne moved in, she brought along her cat, Sebastian. Initially, I was not sure this would work, but it soon became clear that not only was I not allergic, but life with a cat was a new and enriching experience. He added peace, playfulness and calmness to my life. Unfortunately, due to diabetes and other complications, Sebastian passed away in October 2015.
After a few month of “cat-less living”, we decided to get a new one. Entering Mrs. Wong’s cat shelter, we were greeted by more than a hundred cats. Our “target cat-specification” was very clear: black and male with a long-tail similar to Sebastian. Beginning to look around for that “perfect-fit”, one cat seemed highly interested in us and even jumped on us (s.picture). This cat was the total opposite of our target specification, as she was female and three-colour with only half a tail.
The next day, I asked my wife: “Do you think there was any meaning behind this cat jumping on us, almost choosing us? Should we go and get her?” Anne said yes, and soon the cat, which was called “JW2,” came home with us (JW – abbreviation of “Jurong West”, the district of Singapore where she was found). She was “off-spec” … but had chosen us.
Why am I sharing this story?
Assume I would’ve told you exactly one year ago that very soon the whole world would come to a standstill, confining us at home, not allowing us to travel or even meet loved ones and friends, all while being at risk of catching a potentially deadly virus.
Describing such a scenario, you would have probably said that’s impossible and secondly, if it really happened, we would probably be extremely miserable. But, when looking back at nearly 10 months of drastically restricted lives in lockdowns, we have likely all discovered a remarkable resource inside ourselves called adaptability.
How adaptability works is beautifully described by Harvard Psychology Professor, Daniel Gilbert, in his ground breaking book “Stumbling on happiness.” For me, Gilbert’s 2 key lessons are:
- When we imagine our likely level of happiness, sadness or other feelings based on hypothetical future events, our mind adds or leaves out key details without our realizing it.
- When events actually happen and the hypothetical future becomes today’s reality, our psychological “immune system” will distort our perception of events to shield us from undesirable effects like pain or depression.
The disrupted and challenging situation caused by Covid-19 definitely does not fit with our pre-conceived plan for happiness. And yet, day-to-day life continues and presents us with new opportunities to challenge existing paradigms. Maybe it even teaches us how to “stumble on happiness,” by allowing us more time with our immediate families, more time to reflect on life versus being fully consumed by all the many distractions of our normal lives … more time for rest, regular exercise and health.
I believe there is an opportunity to put Professor Gilbert’s learnings into action as we are approaching the very last month of this incredibly difficult year. The upcoming Christmas season will be substantially impaired by all the restrictions. We will have far fewer choices of what to do to celebrate the season. Yet, it might also offer new opportunities. What about taking a break and not getting carried away with the usual Christmas frenzy of stressful last minute preparations, shopping and social obligations?
My challenge to you is to walk into the last four weeks of this difficult year with open minds and hearts, allowing yourself to experience a unique Christmas season, one which may never happen again and one you will always remember as something special.
So, to the rest of the story. What happened to “JW2”?
We decided to call her Rosie. She was not the prettiest cat on earth (s.picture) especially when she removed nearly all her fur in the first few weeks.
But eventually she settled in well and last year moved to London with us. When lockdown started, she was promoted to be our CEO … Chief Enjoyment Officer.
Not only does she enjoy very much our being at home, providing food and cuddles all day long, but, more importantly, with her exceptionally friendly temperament and never ending playfulness, she has helped us enjoy our home even more as a real home.
Rosie was initially totally “out-of-spec,” but I am convinced we “stumbled on happiness” when we made her part of our family.
I hope you will “stumble on” a happy, healthy and contemplative Christmas season this year.