News Story

Finding Meaning and Wellness During Difficult Times

Recently, more than 100 people from various faith backgrounds gathered online to listen to Dr. Richard Koestner speak about “Maintaining Our Well-Being During a Once-in-a-Century Pandemic.” The event, sponsored by the Montreal Quebec Mount Royal Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an opportunity for the community to learn how to find purpose and meaning during stressful times.

Koestner, a psychology professor at McGill University and an expert in human motivation and goal setting, spoke about the importance of eudaimonic well-being during times of self-isolation. Eudaimonic well-being involves a focus on meaningful and purposeful living rather than positive experiences and emotions (hedonic well-being).

“The pandemic,” Koestner said, “has taken a hit on our hedonic well-being. … We’re experiencing fewer positive emotions and more negative emotions than we would typically.”

Koestner commented on how the pandemic has affected people differently depending on demographics and life circumstances. He noted parents of young children may encounter challenges as they juggle working and helping their children with online school. He encouraged such parents to be compassionate with themselves while striving to be “good-enough parents.”

After the meeting, Clareena Lindsay, a Montreal Latter-day Saint, shared, “I learned the importance of changing my expectations and making them more realistic. At this crazy time, it’s OK to be a ‘good-enough parent’ and focus on one to two things that I will prioritize for my children.”

Koestner said that psychological difficulties have been pronounced for young adults, due to disruptions during an important period of identity and career formation. He noted the role of the Church community in this regard: “My daughter is a member of [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], and I’ve marvelled over the last three years how excellent your community is in making young people feel autonomous, connected and competent. … My sense is that your community does a really nice job of orienting people to intrinsic values.” He added that an absence from church reduces opportunities for many people to feel accepted, see friendly faces and receive support.

Carlene Gardner, a Unitarian Universalist who is the director of the McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, attended the meeting and commented afterwards on the spiritual needs of university students: “Being connected to your sense of meaning and purpose helps students weather these rough times. … A rich spiritual life can help build resilience and ultimately help safeguard against a more serious decline in mental health.”

Koestner gave four recommendations for managing self-isolation, based on a media interview with David Saint-Jacques, a Quebec astronaut who has spent over 200 days in space: (1) find meaning and purpose in sacrifices made as a result of the pandemic; (2) maintain a daily, predictable routine; (3) try to make activities “flow” through absorbing engagement and (4) strive to serve others.

Concerning service to others, Koestner said, “We should try to remember if there is someone in our life who might be quite alone right now. I got in touch with an older person whom I used to know, and now I talk to him every week for about an hour, and I text him. I think he appreciates it, but what surprised me is how much it means to me. And that’s the secret.”

Reyna I. Aburto, second counsellor in the Relief Society General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, “Miracles happen when the children of God work together guided by the Spirit to reach out to others in need. We hear so many stories of neighborly love shown among people when catastrophe strikes. … Every one of our paths is different, yet we walk them together. Our path is not about what we have done or where we have been; it is about where we are going and what we are becoming, in unity” (“With One Accord,” April 2018 general conference).

Koestner concluded his presentation by emphasizing the importance of goal setting focused on improved relationships, self-development and community engagement. Reporting new data from his ongoing research on university student motivation and well-being, he said that students who set a new goal during the pandemic appear to have less psychological distress.

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