Opportunities Out of the Tragedies of the Pandemic

“When people focus on what is right within what seems wrong in their life (for example, the car has a flat tire but isn’t totaled), that can lead to seeing things that present themselves as opportunities,” he said.

This is not the same thing as positive thinking. Instead, said Rick Hanson, a clinical psychologist and author of “Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness,” it’s about seeing openings in life for change and transformation, even in difficult circumstances. Mr. Hanson said that although we often think of opportunities as things that exist outside ourselves, like a new job or moving to a different city, opportunities for growth and change exist inside us, too.

Justin E.H. Smith, for example, a philosopher, historian and professor at the University of Paris, made subtle but important changes this past year. Mr. Smith describes himself as an introvert with a tendency to lead a rigid life, doing the same things in the same way every day. The pandemic forced him to restructure his daily life and soften his rigidity.

“I’m aware of the contingency of these new routines now,” he said, “and my power to restructure them if they don’t suit.” Mr. Smith, 48, also admitted that he used to feel too old to try anything new. But the pandemic gave the professor permission to be a novice again. “It didn’t feel shameful any longer for me to be a beginner.”

So after some research, he opened an online brokerage account. He also took up guitar (and now plays every day) and in August, decided to start a paid subscription newsletter on the digital publishing platform Substack, where he writes about the philosophical dimensions of culture, science and politics, and the ways they are changed (and distorted) by technology.

Absent the pandemic, Mr. Smith probably never would have considered it, but for the first time in his professional life, he thought about diversifying his income. “I’m thinking ahead in a precarious moment,” he said.

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