Happy Hour might be too much to ask right now.
Welcome to Happier Hour.
The guests began arriving Friday afternoon. Face after smiling face, popping up on Teresa Thomas’ computer screen with glasses raised. Friends crossing the social distance to make the best of a bad, bad week.
“I’m calling it Happier Hour because we’re not really going to be happy,” Thomas said, speaking the week the governor first asked Minnesotans to stay home in a bid to stop the spread of the deadly virus. “But what if we could all leave just a little happier at the end?”
Staying home saves lives.
Staying happy and healthy while staying at home is the challenge now for 5 million-plus Minnesotans.
“I feel driven to help people find little moments of joy,” said Thomas, who built an entire social-networking business — 50 Fun Things — on the idea of bringing people together to have fun.
“When the whole world started crashing down, I thought, ‘Well, now what?’ ”
Like a lot of businesses sidelined by the shutdown — museums, yoga studios, musicians — she’s doing what she can, free of charge, to help her neighbors make the best of the worst of times.
Little moments of joy are everywhere. Even now. Especially now.
Look down, the sidewalks are scrawled with encouraging chalk messages from strangers: Be kind to each other. Appreciate the little things. Breathe.
People stood outside hospitals, holding signs up to the windows to thank health care workers.
People are calling old friends, trying new hobbies, testing new recipes, taking virtual tours of shuttered museums and watching the penguins at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago waddle around the exhibit halls.
People are posting goofy videos just to make strangers laugh. Google the “Horse with No Name quarantine video.” You’re welcome.
While Thomas tries to figure out a pandemic business model, 50 Fun Things is hosting free Friday Happier Hours and other chances to interact with someone who isn’t your spouse, your kid, your pet or your houseplant.
Fifty Fun Things started with a to-do list Thomas drew up to cheer herself out of a funk after her 50th birthday. A list of 50 things she could do to enjoy the new year. Travel, visit with friends, give karaoke a try.
The idea caught on and she figured out a way to turn fun into a business.
With her Twin Cities business in limbo, she hosted her first stay-at-home Facebook Live event last week, throwing the challenge out to her followers: Find 50 fun things to do while you’re cooped up inside.
People logged in from across the city and across the country. Suggestions poured in: Go for a walk. Read that stack of books. Build a pillow fort. Practice tai chi. Fall in love with your loved ones all over again.
One participant, a New Yorker, played his violin for strangers in Central Park.
“It’s just a way of keeping each other hopeful and connected,” she said. “It helps me avoid anxiety, it helps me avoid depression.”
Right now, I’m sitting in a 600-square-foot apartment with wonky Wi-Fi and a dog who cannot understand why I’m never not around.
So the dog and I go for walks. I’m making a felt ornament of that duck that plays drums with its feet. On Saturday, I logged onto Skype with friends from five different cities in three different time zones. We enjoyed a remote wine-and-paint night and tried — with varying degrees of success — to paint portraits of our pets. The asymmetrical black/brown blob I produced now hangs on my wall because mid-pandemic is a good time to freshen up your apartment’s look.
I get a lot of texts from my nieces.
They made a movie in the first week of lockdown, directed by Chloe, starring Anneliese and her stuffed giraffe, Mr. Giraffypants, as detectives in search of an answer to the toilet paper shortage. (It was the dog.)
They’re sad, they tell me sometimes. They miss school. They miss their friends. Anneliese just heard that Prince Charles tested positive for COVID-19.
I’m sad too, I told them. You’re allowed to feel sad, stressed, scared, anxious or mad that the only peanut butter left in the stores this week is extra-chunky. You’re allowed a pang of envy that Prince Charles can get a coronavirus test.
Then I sent them the Horse With No Name video.
They sent me back a picture of their toilet: two rolls of toilet paper sitting on the lid like eyeballs, an empty roll dangling dejectedly off the seat like a cigarette.
“The toilet,” Chloe said, “is smoking.”
We laughed together and I felt better.
If you want to join a Happier Hour, visit www.facebook.com/50funthings.
If you have your own tips for making the best of this bad week, please share them in the comment section.