4 Ingredients for Human Well-Being

Feeling trapped inside? Or completely anchorless? A psychologist explains how we can intentionally build more freedom, structure, and connection into quarantine life.

Photo by Tierney / Adobe Stock

During my first day of graduate school to become a psychologist, a wise, mischievous, provocative professor said to us: 

Human suffering is often about freedom and containment. When we have too much containment, we scream for freedom. “Let me be me! I need space! Don’t tell me what to do!” But when we have too much freedom, we start to feel adrift. Fearful. Lost in space… and suddenly we are longing for containment. “Hold me close! I need to feel safe!”  

My years of work as a therapist, professor, and community member—did I mention that I live in a cooperative household of eight adults?—have made the wisdom of this insight so clear to me. Our interpersonal upsets and inner pain are so frequently a form of rebelling against too much containment (“Don’t fence me in!”) or protesting not enough contact or security (“Where did you GO?”)

What does all of this have to do with a global pandemic, social distancing, and the disruption of everything?   

Our everyday social structures have been altered, and some have even (temporarily, at least) evaporated. These structures normally create connection: in meetings and at the water cooler at work, in class and at the playground at school, at…