If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of taking good care of ourselves. And we have been good. Buzzwords like wellness, self-love, self-care—and the rituals associated with them—are everywhere now, as it quickly became clear that maintaining health and managing stress gives you an edge in fighting the disease.
Supplement sales skyrocketed as we looked for ways to build up our immune systems with elderberry and oil of oregano. Online meditation rooms were packed with people needing help
with stress and anxiety. Candles and diffusers became irresistible as we tried to bring light, balance, and good smells into our dark, musty, sequestered lives.
Many embraced alternative therapies to help with holistic healing. The traditional Chinese medicine practice of ear seeding—placing tiny seeds along the ear, which is considered a mini road map of the entire body—went viral. Ear seeding is said to stimulate different parts of the body and ease stress, improve digestion, build immunity, and balance hormones. Reflexology, which is built on the similar concept that acupressure points on the soles of the feet correspond to organ systems in the body, also emerged as one of the most popular spa treatments. Applying gentle pressure to those points is said to stimulate blood flow and bring healing to the corresponding organs. And during a pandemic, restricting touch to the feet, with a body’s length between a spa guest and therapist, is a good thing to do.
But not everyone was able to stay on track. According to an American Psychological Association survey released early this year, nearly one in four adults said they managed pandemic isolation and anxiety by drinking too much. On the other hand, health concerns reinforced by the pandemic led many to stop drinking entirely and ushered in a new age of “mocktail mixology,” “sober bars,” and booze-free wine, beer, and craft cocktails. As things perhaps begin to ease up, that time of isolation, fear, loneliness, and pent-up frustration has led many of us to want to bust loose. Is a new decadence soon to follow? Are we heading back to the late 19th century, when artists like Oscar Wilde, Théophile Gaultier, Aubrey Beardsley, and Charles Baudelaire embodied a new mode of sexual, sensual, artistic, and political freedom—some would say excess—that disrupted the prevailing Victorian mores of the time?
Or, better yet, a new Roaring Twenties, a hundred years later? If history is an indicator, then yes. The flu epidemic of 1918 killed more than 50 million people around the world, including 675,000 Americans, along with my great-grandparents—compared with the 746,000 Americans who have, thus far, succumbed to Covid-19. The Twenties ushered in an era of liberation—what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the most expensive orgy in history.” It was a time of newfound freedom for women, symbolized by cigarette smoking, dark painted lips, short bob hairstyles, fringed dresses that skimmed the knee, drinking alcohol in jazz clubs, and dancing the risqué Charleston.
There was a dark side. Then, as now, the U.S. experienced a period of particularly extreme racial violence (the Tulsa Massacre), discrimination against immigrants (the Immigration Act of 1924), and economic inequality. History repeats itself, again and again.
As we begin to see the light at the end of this very long pandemic tunnel, there is a longing, perhaps a nostalgia, to do more, see more, become more engaged in making the world a better place. And we’ve learned that loving ourselves—and practicing rituals of self-care—can be over the top, even decadent, but in a good way. What we call decadence is purely indulgence. It’s generous self-love, with the pursuit of behaviors that bring us pleasure: soft, beautiful clothes in deep, rich colors that feel good against the body. Lovely food and drink. Intoxicating smells, sensuous bubble baths, splurging on luxurious treats for ourselves.
Emerging slowly like beautiful butterflies, we bring with us a newfound appreciation of joy, pleasure, and the beauty in life. Travel is up. Truffles are back on the menu. Getting dressed to go out dancing, dining at expensive restaurants, ordering buckets of champagne, sipping absinthe (and maybe channeling decadent poets Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine?), checking items off the bucket list, and enjoying the pleasure of spending some of the money no one’s had an outlet for. To paraphrase Baudelaire, we are ready to get drunk on life: “You should always be drunk … But on what? Wine, poetry, or talent—it’s your choice, but get yourself drunk!”
Even though we are by no means out of the woods yet, we are hovering on the precipice, ready to start living life more beautifully. What we need is to go out, celebrate, listen to music, wear beautiful clothes, enjoy good food and drink—and each other. With caution, not abandon. With respect, not insult. With love, not hate. In moderation, with respect for individual choices and the greater good. Who wouldn’t raise a glass to that?