Months into this pandemic, we’re still bombarded minute-by-minute by COVID-19 news, including the rapid rise in infections worldwide and loss of life. It is understandably causing high levels of anxiety and stress for our friends, families and colleagues. Non-stop news coverage, contentious political bantering and an abundance of irrelevant information are fueling the flames and challenging our peace of mind and well-being. After several months, it’s still hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and remain positive and confident. This is understandable, given how few positive voices there are right now.
Crises inevitably cause life to change. And change is hard — even good change. While it’s easy to concentrate on the bad and scary stuff, a lot of positives will emerge from the current crisis. Some of this might not be immediately evident. But on other fronts, we are already seeing things that are encouraging.
While it’s not our intent to minimize the current difficulties — health, financial and otherwise — that this pandemic is inflicting on so many, we do want to shine a light on how our glasses might be at least 33% full right now. Here are 14 ways life might be getting better as result of COVID-19.
- Fewer flu deaths. My nurse wife has always told me to wash my hands. In the past, I dismissed her as a worrywart. Like many, I now know better. Because of COVID-19, I wash my hands regularly. I’m also more cognizant of how I can reduce the spread of disease. This now-engrained mindset is likely to result in far fewer cases of the common cold, flu and other infectious diseases in the next decade, which could save millions of lives and avoid lots of suffering.
- Embracing technology. While technology has slowly made our lives better, being forced to use video conferencing, attend meetings via webinars and order food and products online is certain to speed up society’s adoption of cool, time-saving technology. We received an email from an 80-year-old client who attended one of our first town halls on COVID-19. It was his first webinar, and he proudly shared that he enjoyed it! Just like that, his world expanded from the comfort of his own home.
- Higher expected returns. No one likes it when the market goes down. Prior to the crisis, valuations were average to a bit pricey. A consolation prize of the current bear market is that forward-looking equity returns are slightly higher as a result of lower valuations. This will help us recover faster and bodes well for people in retirement and those saving in the coming years.
- Simplicity. Overnight, life got simpler. With the absence of sports, business travel, and the ability to dine out, we have all gotten back to the basics. We are saving commuting time, filling our gas tank and changing our oil less often, reading, meditating, taking walk, and smelling the flowers. Oh, we also no longer need makeup or neckties!
- Neighborliness. While taking long walks to relieve stress, I notice people are a lot friendlier than before. In the past, I would pass people on the walking path and they would look down. Interestingly, people now seem much nicer, smile more often and are eager to engage — albeit from six feet away. Seems like social distancing is causing us to slow down, appreciate and care more about people.
- Embracing change. Change is tough, even when it is good for us. Habits are hard to break. Now that our routines are disrupted, we have a clean slate and can embrace new, healthier habits. Innovation will likely accelerate. As we’re forced out of our comfort zone, I expect people will reconsider their priorities, refocus on what matters, and gain clarity regarding their ideal future. Some, like me, may even establish new exercise routines.
- Family focus. Because of social distancing, many people are spending more time with their immediate families, enjoying regular family dinners and game nights. Yes, we have been sequestered from physical contact with extended family and friends. On the other hand, anecdotally, I am hearing that many people are increasing contact with their loved ones using technology.
- More generosity. Unlike the 2008-2009 financial crisis, where we could point fingers at responsible people and institutions, no one is at fault for COVID-19. We are all in this together. But lots of people are getting hurt, through no fault of their own. I notice that people are stepping forward to help and I believe this newfound generosity will build community and improve societal well-being. I suspect that new philanthropists will emerge after discovering how good it feels to give to others and will increase their donations for many years to come.
- Flexible workplace. Many jobs have been clustered in certain metropolitan areas like San Francisco. “Shelter-in-place” may create the opportunity for the workforce to spread out further. Location will matter less and this may be the death of the 9-to-5 workday. Commuting times may be reduced and companies can more easily employ the best talent, regardless of location. Finally, we may see less concentration in expensive, crowded and polluted metropolitan areas, mitigating the effects of a ‘winner take all’ economy in which certain states see all the job growth.
- Improved medical technology and preparedness. The medical system and citizens will be more prepared for a future and potentially different crisis. There have been warnings that something like this could happen for years, and it should spur innovations in treating disease and rethinking how to handle hospital capacity. Time- and cost-saving telemedicine will become normal. This will benefit people in remote locations and save us precious time and money.
- Less pollution. Research shows pollution levels in China and other major population centers like Los Angeles have been significantly reduced since the start of the crisis. Several academics have published research showing that there may be significant public health benefits and many lives actually saved as a result of the relief provided to the environment. While it is early to draw firm conclusions and some benefits may be temporary, the trend toward working at home and reduced consumption of oil and fossil fuels could provide long-term benefits.
- An education revolution. There is increasing consensus that the education system is outdated. For example, the full-time, in-person four-year liberal arts university degree was originally imagined when people graduated at age 22 and died at 42. Furthermore, a couple of hundred years ago, the world’s knowledge base moved at a turtle’s pace. When you graduated, you had all the knowledge you needed for the rest of your life. In contrast, today the rate of change continues to accelerate and we live and work far longer. This crisis may be a catalyst to finally challenge and reframe how we learn, during and after our formal education, moving us increasingly toward virtual, on-demand lifetime learning.
- Unexpected leadership. All major crises have unique nuances, but in all cases, the most important ingredient required to move beyond each crisis is confident leadership. In every crisis, leaders emerge. Some you might predict, while some are new leaders no one saw coming. This is one of those rare moments in time when each of us, no matter our role, has the opportunity to deliberately and confidently embrace leading colleagues, friends, clients, our families and communities to solid footing and sunnier days. With the rapid dissemination of news about the pandemic and the uncertainty and confusion that result, some people run for the hills. Others hide under their desks and lock their doors. But some will step forward and lead with calmness, confidence and resiliency.
- Growth in population: A mini baby boom. While the hospitals are stressed right now with COVID-19, I suspect the maternity wards will be overwhelmed in nine months. With people spending more time in front of the fireplace, drinking wine at home with their spouse or loved one, we may not need to worry about the lack of new entrants into the workplace about the time I’m ready to retire!
Time will tell how we capitalize on these and other potential positive results. Some of these benefits may be short-lived, while others will be more permanent. We intend to embrace these 14 opportunities as well as others to increase well-being and the quality of life.
Just as new life blossoms from the forest floor after a fire, I challenge you and your family to look for ways that this unfortunate crisis will surface creative ways for us to improve our lives and emerge stronger and better. I suspect opportunities will abound!
Brent R. Brodeski is CEO of Savant Capital Management.