How to survive a pandemic

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Published on 22 December 2022 by Andrew Owen (5 minutes)

If you’re reading this then, at the time of writing, thus far, through a combination of luck and guile, you have survived the pandemic. Well done. But what kind of mental and physical state are you in? What kind of state are your work and personal relationships in? Were you part of the great resignation, and now you’re struggling to find meaningful work in a job market looking down the barrel of ongoing war in Europe and a global recession? So long as you can couch-surf at the home of someone with a Netflix subscription, I have the TL;DR answer to your woes. Laughter.

This, in case you haven’t guessed, is the one lighter article of the year that I’m allowing myself for the holiday season. If the end of that last paragraph didn’t even generate a sarcastic laugh, then you’re in deep need of healing. But if it did, then didn’t you feel a little better, if only for a fraction of a second? The health benefits of laughter are real. I’ll leave it to you to Google the peer-reviewed studies.

To summarize: laughter reduces the level of stress hormones, increases the level of endorphins, strengthens the immune system, releases pent-up emotions, is good for your heart and muscles, distracts from negative emotions and connects us to other human beings. We could all use some of that right now. Particularly as we probably have at least another year of the pandemic to go through before it falls back to epidemic levels.

Personal hygiene, handwashing and mask wearing all have their place. But we’re all tired of it. So having been double vaxed and boosted, earlier this year I went to The Cat Laughs comedy festival in Kilkenny, and promptly got Covid-19. Probably should’ve seen that coming. In the end it worked out, because it meant that I had a good level of immunity when I traveled abroad the following month. And I only had one graphically horrific nightmare.

I spent my convalescence listening to “Black History, Black Freedom, and Black Love” and “Redefining Feminism” on Masterclass. Informative, but not a lot of laughs. But hold your thoughts; I’ll come back to them. I was going to talk about a different entertainment subscription service. MasterClass is basically a highbrow version of Netflix. You binge-watch it, and then tell yourself that you’re working on your personal development, like you promised yourself you would at the start of the pandemic. But let’s be honest, I watched the Serena Williams MasterClass purely for entertainment (it has a great laugh-out-loud moment). I respect her achievements, and I was interested in what she had to say. But I’ve no interest in learning to play tennis.

But back to Netflix, the service that once tried to sell itself to Blockbuster for $50 million. Being the oldest of the streaming services, it has come in for more than its fair share of criticism from both sides of the culture wars. Even from its own staff. But Netflix is a business, and its only real agenda is profit. If I have a criticism, it’s that the algorithm figures out what you want to see, and gives you more of that. Ok, and that the vast majority of content is mediocre at best. But there’s good stuff on there if you know where to look.

Wasn’t I supposed to be talking about comedy? This I think is the strength of Netflix. Whatever you’re for or against, there’s a comedy special on Netflix where someone is taking potshots at your views. And you should watch that comedy. Being offended isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. Even if by the end, your views remain unchanged, at least you got some insight into how the other side thinks. And then you can watch some other comedy that reinforces your beliefs.

Unhold those earlier thoughts. People who are put off by the titles of those classes on MasterClass could certainly benefit from watching them. But where’s the counterpoint? Netflix gives you Tim Allen, Jeff Dunham, Jeff Foxworthy, Sam Kinison, Norm Macdonald, Colin Quinn, Ray Romano and David Spade. Even if you’re a pirate utopian, you’ll laugh at some of their jokes. Well except Tim Allen. Great in “Galaxy Quest”. Not funny. But you might feel some empathy for his audience.

Well, this isn’t exactly the light article I had planned. Shortly before publishing it, I had some doubts about the tone. Clearly, I’m writing from a position of privilege, having had access to vaccines and not having lost any immediate family members to the virus. Based on analytics, not all of my readers will have spare income to fritter away on Netflix and MasterClass. I’m not even sure the title is in particularly good taste. I’m sorry. I’ll take another shot at it next year. In the meantime, enjoy the Yuletide in whatever form you prefer. And whatever else it brings, may it also include laughter.


Watching a DevRelCon Twitch stream, I heard about Open Sourcing Mental Health. It’s a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness, educating, and providing resources to support mental wellness in the tech and open source communities.