Can it really be that a year ago I’d never even heard of COVID? That I went merrily about my daily life without a mask on my face or sanitizer in my fist? That I hugged my friends when I saw them, kissed their grandchildren, shared a meal with them? That I did my pre-Shabbat grocery shopping on Thursday mornings because I knew the store would be crowded and I’d see many of my friends while walking the aisles? Who knew then what was just around the corner? Ahh . . . those were the good old days.

If you’re reading this, you’ve survived the first wave of the pandemic, an entire year of holidays celebrated entirely differently from usual, and all the other changes the past year has brought. Now we’re in the darkest, coldest weeks of the year. The pandemic continues to rage. Yes, we are surviving, and survival is good. But if you’re like me, you want to do more than survive. You want to thrive. Thriving, however, doesn’t just happen, it takes effort and nurturing. Think of a plant. It can survive between the cracks of a city sidewalk, but to thrive it needs to dig its roots deep for water and nourishment, and stretch its stem and leaves upward to maximize the sunlight.

1. Banish the Words “Why Bother”

Why bother cooking a good meal? After all, it’s just me eating. Why bother getting dressed? I’m not seeing anyone. Why bother doing housework? No one is visiting. The “why bother?” list is endless, but I don't let myself buy into it. Life does not have a pause button, and this is not an intermission. My life is streaming live, every second of the day, with no rewinds and no second takes. I cook because I enjoy eating well. I get dressed because whether I’m home or not, I feel better when I’m dressed to face the day. I do housework because this is my home and I don't want to be surrounded by dirt and mess. The answer to the incessant “why bother?” is “because this is my life, granted to me by G‑d, and my life matters!”

2. Every Evening, Make a List

Nothing gives me such a strong sense of accomplishment as seeing my to-do list with each task checked off at the end of the day. Especially now, when the days can easily blend together in a gray, undifferentiated fog. A daily list keeps me focused, so I don’t waste hours at a time browsing the Internet, watching mindless TV, or staring endlessly at the open refrigerator in search of yet another snack. And at the end of the day, it reminds me that my day was productive. I make my list the night before, so I wake up each morning with good reason to get out of bed and start my day.

In chassidic terminology, the notion of taking stock of one’s spiritual accomplishments and challenges each day, and planning the following day, is known as cheshbon hanefesh, “soul reckoning.” When our days stretch endlessly, this is more important than ever.

3. Learn Something New Every Day

Whether it’s a scheduled Zoom class, a chapter in Tanya, this week’s Torah portion, or discovering a new recipe, I try to stretch myself a little more every day. Stretching is what separates surviving from thriving. Learning isn’t something I do after all my mundane chores are finished. It’s what I do first. Before sorting emails. Before reading the news. (But after making coffee, because my brain needs coffee to function!) Even if I end up doing nothing else all day, if I’ve learned something new I still consider the day productive, because I know more than I did when I woke up. Just think of that plant in the sidewalk crack, reaching for the sunlight. Learning is human sunlight!

4. Before Going to Sleep, Thank G‑d for 5 Good Things

The bedtime Shema is followed by several select verses, including “In Your hand I entrust my spirit; You have redeemed me, O L‑rd, G‑d of truth.” Everything that happens to us, now and always, is orchestrated by G‑d.

Do you lie in bed, rehashing your day, filled with worry? Who hasn’t done this, and then spent the night tossing and turning? I spent too many years with that bad habit, but now, as soon as I’m comfortably snuggled under the blankets, I think about five good things that happened that day. It could be a positive news story I read, a friend whose COVID test was negative, the new recipe that’s a keeper, or the repair bill that was less than I’d anticipated. All days, even the hardest ones, are filled with countless blessings. Use those last moments each night to count a few of them. I guarantee you’ll sleep better.

5. Reach Out to Others Every Day

I’ll make a confession here. This is my weak point. Much as I love my friends and family, I’m basically an introvert, and I can go long periods being quite content on my own. But these past months have taught me that contentment isn’t necessarily healthy. I’d be content to eat nothing but sweets and soda. I’d be content to never get off the sofa. I’d be content to stay in my pajamas. I’d . . . well, I’d better stop fantasizing while I still can! The point is that just because it feels comfortable to do, or not do, something, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Isolation is bad, even for introverts. We need human contact. In the words of G‑d Himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

So make that phone call, and don’t keep score who’s called whom the most. Just make the call!

These tips have enabled me to thrive even though my life these days resembles that plant in the sidewalk crack. I may be constricted physically and isolated from others of my kind, but like that plant, I choose to not just survive, but to thrive. I’m digging deep roots and stretching for sunlight!