Some Musings on the Concept of “Normal”

new normal

By Troy Headrick

With the exception of LinkedIn, I’ve totally gotten off of social media.  When I quit posting on Twitter and Facebook—quite a long time ago now—I went cold turkey and stayed clean for many months.  Early in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 situation was beginning to ramp up in the United States, I started looking at Facebook again.  I did so only as a form of “research.”  I wanted to see what the public was thinking and saying about the spread of a novel coronavirus.

About mid-April I found an interesting post written by a friend of a friend of a friend of someone I’m related to.  (In other words, a person I’ve never met or spoken with.)  In the post I’m referring to, the writer was angry and began by railing against the idea that we are living a “new normal”—a phrase he abhorred—during this moment in world history.  He went on to say that social distancing, working from home, and being deprived of the pleasures of shopping and going out to restaurants is a long way from normal and that he had no intention of allowing himself to be convinced that this period was anything other than unacceptably abnormal.  He finished up his post by listing all the activities he would engage in as soon as we “beat the shit out of this virus.”

The post got under my skin, and I started thinking a lot about the term “normal.”  The more I thought, the more I realized that normal, at least when it’s applied to life, has less to do with how things are “out there” (in “the real world”) and more to do with what’s going on in the human mind when one looks at reality.

The individual who posted on Facebook clearly had a template in his head about what life is supposed to look like (when things are “normal”) and he was dissatisfied because the world wasn’t currently conforming to those ideals.  This mismatch pissed him off to no end.  Most would recognize such thinking as magical thinking or wishful thinking.  It is also very egocentric to think that the entire natural world has to submit to the desires of a single human being.

I think I’m very comfortable right now—despite all the minor inconveniences we are currently experiencing, and I have to say, because I’ve been lucky up to this point in time, that no one I love has gotten sick, so I’m aware that many are understandably uncomfortable (and even worse than that) right now, but not because they’ve simply been inconvenienced—because I don’t carry around a firm set of ideas about what “normal” is supposed to look like.   There likely was a time when I did see the world in this way.  But then I spent nearly two decades living in a variety of European, Asian, and African countries and realized that “normal life” can look one way in one location (and at a particular moment in time) and then change very dramatically if the circumstances that create feelings of “normalcy” change.

The old saying “Variety is the spice of life” really does ring true to me.  A person who has had a variety of life experiences and is open to being changed by those experiences is likely to have a hard time holding on to a rigid view of what life is supposed to resemble.  I guess you could say that I’ve become a cultural relativist—and every other kind of relativist too.  Years ago, I quit thinking in terms of something being too shocking or too weird to be believed or to be thought of as unacceptable.

Today, when I look in the mirror, I see lots of gray hair.  This is my new normal and has been for at least a handful of years.  There was a time in my life when I had really dark hair that made a strong contrast with my generally pale skin.  When I was a child, I had auburn hair—my mother’s genetic contribution—and even paler skin than I had when I was in my twenties and thirties.  This points out that I can’t even count on myself for remaining “normal” across time and space.  Every single day I change, and I’d be a fool to expect that the Troy I see and observe today is going to be same Troy I see and observe tomorrow.

The Stoics believe that the only constant is change.  Those of you who read me regularly know that I am a practitioner of Stoicism, so I’ll finish by recommending, once again, that everyone read Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, the great Stoic thinker, and study his thoughts on normalcy and change.

I look forward to your comments.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.

80 thoughts on “Some Musings on the Concept of “Normal”

  1. Variety is the spice of life, I really liked this one and this message should be spread wide. In a time where people have a hard time accepting change, normal is nothing absolute but relative. Nice post.

      1. Thanks. Me too. I actively seek out new experiences. I think this might also be sort of the secret to living longer, happier, and healthier lives.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve noticed that those with a more progressive political inclination are more open to the idea that we have to learn to coexist with this virus, at least until we find a vaccine or medicines that work. Those with a more conservative outlook want to kind of deny the existence of the virus or fight against making any changes to their lifestyle.

  2. Good for you. I gave up my social media accounts back in Oct or so. I just figured that “friends” knew how to call me if they needed me.
    But, I liked your post. Normal is what you make of it. Life always changes and then we learn from it. Be safe out there.

    1. You too. Be safe. I find it unfortunate that some are making this either/or. Either we we open up and therefore enjoy ourselves or we stay closed and remain stunted in some form or fashion. I think we can stay closed and be happy. I do know that some are hurting financially and I totally feel for those in that situation. (I know poverty, firsthand, believe me.) On the other hand, I reject the idea that we have to consume to be happy and robust.) This might be teaching a lot of us a new way to live. Thanks for the comment.

      1. You’re welcome and I agree. We have a lot to learn about ourselves and from the behaviors that I am seeing around the US I am wondering if anyone is learning anything at all. We shall see.

  3. Normal can mean different things. It could be the fat part of a Bell curve. We use that one a lot, mainly to convince ourselves that we are not “abnormal.” A “new normal” here could mean the fat part of the Bell curve has shifted. Or it could be that we’ve decided to accept a broader section of the curve under our definition of normal.

    Normal can mean whatever we are used to. People who are averse to change use this definition a lot. That’s what your friend is doing. Some external force has caused a sudden alteration in the course of life. The “new normal” is the new direction of travel if it does not return to the earlier course. If the change is gradual, “normal” can change without us even being aware of the change and that is usually ok by most people.

    There’s a different definition for the word normal most people don’t know. It is a line that is at a right angle to another line, a synonym for perpendicular. (This line is “normal” to our baseline means it is at 90 degrees to it.) So if we think of society’s evolution as a straight line, normal would be a 90-degree change in direction. Try tossing that definition randomly into your conversation!

    1. I’ve really enjoyed reading your comment. I need to think a bit more about your last definition of “normal”–the perpendicular line example. Those who are risk averse, who are closed to the idea that things can (and must) change, must live in a near-constant state of frustration. Perhaps this explains all the anger I see recently. On the other hand, I see a lot of people talking about how this new normal is opening a door to new and exciting ways to live, a kind of living that moves away from the notion that happiness is necessarily equated with consumption and “work.” What are those who are insisting that we “get back to work” really saying? What are they really thinking? Do they have some kind of visceral fear that people with more time on their hands might actually start asking questions? By the way, do you blog? If so, I’d like to read some of your writing.

  4. Interesting post! The entire concept of human evolution is to change according to the environment around you. Early man who clothed himself with leaves and ate raw meat to satiate hunger, to the current day man, I guess we changed beyond recognition! Yes change is the only thing that is constant. A lot of the trends that resulted form the pandemic are here to stay for a long time. Hence it will be the new Normal.

    1. My wish is that more people will learn to see this as an opportunity to grow, to question, to explore alternative ways of living–ways that aren’t predicated on the idea that we all have to be these little, busybody, mindless, consuming robots to be happy and “productive.” A lot of what used to be considered productive under the old normal was self-destructive to the individual and the planet in the long term. Thanks for your comment.

  5. We see the world the way we are in our hearts not the way the world is. Embrace that to which closely makes our normal seem such and dismiss the rest as foolish nonsense.

  6. I believe that ‘normal’ is different for every individual. Like you mentioned it really depends on the experiences that you had in life and places where you lived. Where I live now, during summer months the streets are cleaned by the city (with lots of water) every day of the week except Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I find this abnormal and even unnecessary but those born here think I’m crazy because if the streets are not cleaned than there is dust everywhere. Dust is normal outside in my opinion but this is just an example of my normal vs others. So, yeah, I agree so much with what you wrote.

    1. Traveling and living as an “outsider” is extremely healthy for the individual. Otherwise, we become fossilized and rigid, incapable of accepting anything that deviates (even a little) from our accepted notions of rightness and goodness. I remember the first time I took a sociology class at the university. The professor introduced the concept of “ethnocentrism” to me, and I had my mind blown. I’d always thought that something like ethnocentrism existed, but I didn’t have a way of naming the concept. His naming of it was kind of a validation for something I’d long sort of, kind of, understood. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Thank you for your honest perspective. I am personally enjoying this pause in “normal life” and looking forward with hope that our world will NEVER go back to the “normal” before. This virus has taught us so many lessons I just hope enough people across the globe are listening and aware.

    1. I have heard so many people say exactly what you just said. I’ve said it and thought it many times myself. One of the cultural battles going on right now is between those who want to push us really hard to think of human beings as these these little units of production versus those of us who see that we can express ourselves in many varied ways–not just economically. The former want us to remain atomized; while the latter see great potential in collective action that is aimed at achieving a common good. I think your post and my response is actually something I might turn into a larger piece for my next posting here. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Do you blog or write? If so, why not post a link to some of your stuff here. Many could gain from your insights.

      1. I do have a blog at
        I am just starting out. Not sure when you say to post here, do you mean in the comments section? Lol! Nurse by trade for the past 20 years so blogging is still really new to me!
        I would love to read a post that expands on the idea of the world embracing a more natural and synergistic way of life. We have truly lost our way and our lives are so unnatural seeming. It isn’t until we stop the illness of “doing” and start simply being that we will be living in flow and people will see so much more joy and happiness in their day to day. Anyways, rambling a bit. I look forward to reading your posts!

  8. Nicely done, Troy. I too, find myself irritated by the “normal” comments you describe. How short-sighted. I think part of becoming an adult–truly–is when we understand that there are different points of view in this world. That there are so many–and different– “normal” “realities” experienced by every single person on this globe. “Normal” for me might be “abnormal” for you, and vice versa.
    To echo some of the previous comments, I hope we never return to normal. Because there are always improvements to be made. So many people were hurting and dying and exploited before this pandemic, so a return to that “normal” would–in a word–be devastating.
    May we all learn and grow from this.

    1. Yes! I couldn’t agree more. Who would ever want to return to a place where some have healthcare and some don’t. Where some work for minimum wage (and have to literally risk their lives for a measly paycheck) while the one percent have more money than they could ever hope to spend. There was so much about the old normal that bothered me. As I was saying in my response to the previous person who commented, one of the dominate cultural battles being waged right now is between those who want us to remain atomized and alienated from one another versus those who see the potential for us to engage in collective action toward a common good.

  9. It is true that the only constant is change. It is also true that social distancing when living alone is very different than social distancing when one lives with family.
    Personally, I live alone and miss face-to-face interactions with others. While there is messenger video, Houseparty app, and FaceTime, to name a few, it is not the same as a hug or a sloppy kiss from a grandchild.

    1. I totally get what you’re saying. I’ve got an elderly father with many health issues. He’s only a two-hour drive away and I haven’t seen him since about February. (He’s one of the primary reasons I quit living overseas and returned to the US after nearly two decades abroad.) I miss him a lot but being away from him is the way I can express my love for him. I guess I see this as a kind of sad time. but I have learned much during periods of great sadness in my life. Hang in there!

      1. I agree wholeheartedly on both points. We do learn much during periods of great sadness in our lives. Hopefully, that learning can become an impetus on the path to growth and enlightenment.

  10. Certainly food for thought. I too am not the same person I was. I attribute that to my openness to change as I gain more knowledge and experiences. It raises the question for me as to whether normal is something personal or is it conditioned by society’s expectations?

      1. Yes, but because people have beliefs in common does it necessarily follow that they’re the best alternative? I suggest that history dictates otherwise. We are a curious species for sure. 😀

      2. Of course, majority is different from what is right.

        Yes, historically, the geocentric model was considered true by majority or rather a whole civilization.

      3. I have no quarrel with the idea that “normal” can be defined in many different ways. My quarrel is with those who refuse to accept the notion that change is natural. That a person can simply dismiss facts because they suggest that things might not be as imagined. I think it’s actually counterproductive to even use the term “normal” because it connotes stasis when life itself is kinetic.

    1. How do you feel about the person you are becoming? I feel good about where my life is going. My wife and I have “less” right now, but that is fine. Back when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the mid-90s, I was “poor” by just about anyone’s definition, but I felt so rich. I hear a lot of squawking by a certain type of people about their need for freedom, but then I see that they want to express that freedom by following an angry herd. Real freedom is blazing your own trail. Real freedom is not something that anyone or any group can take away from you.

  11. A recess from social network is a relief – time suddenly seems abundant.

    I thought, you really counted the beads in friend chain. 😀

    If the “new normal” becomes comfortable despite minor inconveniences, then frankly speaking, I’d advise the world to continue, perhaps with few exemptions, because THAT is healthy for the planet, for the other species, hence better for humans and their children.

    1. I have written elsewhere that I got off social media because it was turning me into an angry and mean person. I’m very political, and I was using it to attack my opponents. I was becoming very self-destructive in other words. I thought I was defeating my enemies, but I was engaging in self-defeating behavior.

  12. This post resonates with me. I haven’t been on Social media, except WordPress and Goodreads, if these count as one, for a very long time and I’m glad I’m not.

    Now for someone who slipped into the routine of being at home for about 2 months now, ever since the lockdown came into force, I embraced with quite easily with a little hiccups now and then and it truly surprises me that the privileged class keeps complaining of their freedom curbed, of not being able to do things they liked to do and having to temporarily succumb to the situation, completely abnormal as far as they are concerned. The idea of normal is so very relative. For instance it is normal to honk in the streets of India while it is a no no in other countries. It is normal to drink tap water in the US but in India it would invite wrath of the tummy! There is no fixed normal across the world, it is ever changing. May be embracing the change would be the normal thing to do.

    1. Thank you for leaving such a thought-provoking comment. A person has to see and experience variety before a person knows that variety exists. This is the problem. Many Americans (and it is true elsewhere as well) have a very limited set of experiences to draw on and so suffer from all manner of limitations, including an ethnocentric worldview. I also liked your comment about the “privileged class.” The loudest complainers right now are those who are the most protected. I suppose they are upset because someone has denied them the opportunity to wallow in immediate gratification.

      1. Yes. You are absolutely right. The ones with the most advantages are the ones who complaint the most. All I am hoping for is that the pause on the world brings about some sense and we are kinder and considerate to every being on earth.

  13. I think everyone has their own idea of ‘normal,’ but that is their normal and should not be forced on others. As a person who grew up on the autism spectrum and is a friend of social anxiety, I heard many times how I chose to live was not normal. That any kid or teen should want to go out and cause havoc with friends. I had friends, but I didn’t have this need to want to hang out with them everyday or spend every waking moment with them. I found school really overwhelming and it took a lot for me to recover from each school day. I was completely happy with going home after school making a snack, and spend a couple hours writing, watching tv or just listening to music to relax by myself so I can complete my homework. I have been to bars, and I have partied a few times, but when I was legally allowed to drink etc…it really wasn’t my form of fun. My parents thought this was abnormal, that when everyone was out doing things and inviting me, I would only say yes rarely. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, but it was in very small groups. I HATED and still do hate crowds to this day because I can’t function properly in them, even after many efforts of actually trying it and trying to enjoy it. You could say my norm is social distancing and I do spend a lot of my time at home, If anything, I prefer the outdoors with my husband or even by myself. The peace of nature. I’d much rather get out of the city and go camping or on a hike with a small group of friends or my husband, than go see a movie or go to a restaurant in a city. It has nothing to do with I am not social, or I don’t like the city I just have certain challenges and I function fine in a small group of people (2-4) I am an introvert, and I socialize on my terms, not anyone else’s. I am very independent and I like being independent.

    What we are living in now is not the ‘new normal,’ it is a time in society that will pass. I get it sucks, but are you arguing socializing is more important than health? We have become so dependent on each other and society, people forget what it is like to be okay alone. Take away socializing and social media, and people have to face things they may not like about themselves. It makes them nervous. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a family, want to have friends and wanting to participate in society…but there is something deeply wrong with hardly anyone is truly happy anymore. Depression, suicide and other mental health illnesses have sky rocketed. We wonder why, but I don’t. We are living a fake life with many distracions. People being sad about not getting enough likes on their selfies on facebook. Doing anything including stupid stuff just for two seconds of attention from the public. If anything I think we needed this. I think people need a reality check. You need to love yourself and you need to be okay without clarification from anyone.

    You want my opinion though, even socializing is not the normal anymore. Texting and talking on the phone 24 hours a day is the new norm. Facebook likes is the new norm. I see so many people texting and yes chatting to each other, but not actually spending time together. Social media is the new norm. It’s scary because I feel it is disconnecting us from reality. I deleted my facebook, twitter etc accounts years ago and never looked back. I feel healthier without it, but that was a personal choice. I figure if someone really needs to get a hold of me and you know me personally you can either stop by or call me. If you know me and don’t have contact information, there are reasons for it as in I don’t want said person to be able to contact me for any reason. xD

    Maybe not entirely related, but this is my only related post and thoughts on the pandemic.

    1. Thank you for making such a wonderful comment and sharing your story. Many people should read your comment because they could learn a lot from your wise words. I especially liked the following sentences:

      “Take away socializing and social media, and people have to face things they may not like about themselves. It makes them nervous.”

      I do think this at least partly explains why so many seem so upset with having to stay home right now. There are lots of people who can’t stand aloneness. (I’ll never forget taking an introduction to psychology class and having the instructor explain the difference between aloneness and loneliness.) You’re absolutely right; many Americans have a fear of being alone with themselves and so they stay busy with all manner of distractions or rush around so the don’t have the time to engage in a little self-examination.

      I’m glad we both realized how unhealthy social media can be for some people. It certainly was unhealthy for, and I see the same is true for you.

      I appreciate the link to your blog. I’m going to check it out! Take care and stay in touch.

  14. This is a really good post! For me, this quarantine period showed me that the normal can change. It is relative. The good thing is that I accepted this from the beginning, so I did not react much to the change. I don’t know if I already had a relativist mindset before or it just happened in this period. But now I know that I take ‘normal’ to be changeable.

    1. You are an educated, well traveled, open-to-new-ideas-and-experiences kind of person. We need more people like you. The world would be a better place if we had more like you. I expect you will continue to roll with the punches. Thanks for reading, Betul.

    1. Hi. I looked at your blog and saw that you teach in Japan. Like you, I was an expatriated educator for many years. I lived in Poland for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, five years in the UAE, four years in Turkey, and seven years in Egypt. I was actually in Egypt during the revolution in 2011 and learned so much about myself and the Egyptians during that period. I met and married an Egyptian Muslim woman in 2011. I will reach out to you at some point to get your opinion about the teaching possibilities in Japan. I think it is highly likely that we will leave the US as soon as universities think about hiring again and people begin to move around a bit more. I really appreciate the Boethius recommendation. I’ll certainly get a copy asap and have a look.

      1. I’d be happy to give you some resources and recommendations about teaching in Japan. I am also in an international marriage with husband who is Japanese. One learns a lot about oneself by learning about others. That’s true about marriage and cultures.

  15. So many interesting angles to what normal can mean. I often use the phrase “this is our normal” to describe the different life our family leads with a complex needs child in the mix. Everyone has their own reality.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I really liked the idea of your family having its own normal. We all have our sense of what normal means. My quarrel is with those who think that nature has to conform to our desires, rather than being open to how nature presents itself and then learning to live with that presentation. Such a view of nature is root cause for why humans seem so willing to exploit the natural world.

  16. Dissatisfaction with life in the period of COVID-19 pandemic has a lot to do with the perception cultivated now for so many years that any day must be a happy event when you dance through it, better with music you prefer, and there is everything at your disposal because it is how it must be. As soon as something doesn’t meet ones elevated expectations, there is a very strong disapproval. People believe they deserve all the good things and somebody, in this case something, now takes them away. Very typical for this century and the never-ending happiness perception. Thus, we have these extra high numbers of depressed people, who cannot take any discomfort and do not know how to deal with loss and restrictions. Something is profoundly wrong with the basic values and how we are seeing the world around us.
    Mortality is also a concept which has a very blurred out and distant meaning. Most people are absolutely not ready for the reality check, and, therefore, some go into frustration, some in absence and ignorance, but some feel despair.
    There is nothing which could prepare one for such events, unless they have a strong spine and realistic assumptions and expectations.
    It was an interesting read.

    1. Yes! We are in perfect agreement. Many Americans seem ill-equipped to handle any sort of adversity. I know people who feel they’ve been cheated because they were unable to go to a restaurant for a couple of months. Others are upset because the nail salons have been closed. How did Americans ever survive the Great Depression or put up with the hardships that came with the Civil War or WWII? Lots feel entitled and feel like their freedom is being taken away if they have to wear a mask in public. Plus, many Americans are radical individualists so they have no sense of the common good or how to sacrifice for the good of others. i hope this teaches us lots of lessons. For many. it will. For many others, they’ll remain as stubborn as ever. Thanks so much for your wonderfully thoughtful comment.

  17. I quite like this post. My thoughts often turn towards the concept of normal, and to our personal expectations that mold our perceptions of normalcy. The past few months I have observed that longing for ‘normal’ brings out altruistic behaviors in many people, and selfish behaviors in many others. It is interesting to observe.

    1. I’m especially puzzled by those who are angered when folks around them wear masks. They are claiming that they are for freedom, just as long as others practice freedom in a way they find acceptable. America is so divided now. I try to be optimistic, but the future I see is a pretty dark one.

  18. Thoughtful piece. I’m hoping we don’t go back to normal. If ‘normal’ means ravaging our earth, putting ‘me’ first all the time, consumerism and neo-liberalism.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. I’m actually finding greater peace at this moment of quietness and decreased consumption. Others seem to want to stubbornly cling to a way of life that looks wholly unhealthy–for us and for the natural world. It appears that some of the rats really are in love with the rat race.

  19. Hi Troy, I enjoyed your post. I totally agree that normality is subjective, and I love the idea of getting off social media. I have all but abandoned Facebook in favour of Instagram and find it more in line with my needs. I’m a frequent poet and have a poem on “normality” written in Lancashire dialect which I revisited after reading your post. It made me smile as it reflected what you are saying. Life is in constant change so as humans we need to adapt, I don’t think anyone can ever say normal is standard, it’s like an overcoat, one size doesn’t fit all 😎 Stay safe and well

    1. I’d love to read some of your poetry. Do you have a site? If so, why not post a link here so we can check it out. Thanks so much for your comment.

      1. Hi Troy, Thanks so much for taking the time out to read my stuff, I really enjoy writing. I have a Facebook page Not Exactly Rembrandt which is a hitch potch of everything. I’m a bit of a serial crafter, I write poetry, do watercolours, oil pastels, make teddies, wool felting, so if you go on there you will see a bit of everything. I’ve posted the Normality overrated poem on my blog . Have a nice day 😘

  20. Fantastic way of looking at things. I too, am quite content with how things are right now. No, they’re not everyone’s idea of “normal” but it is what it is. Just accept it, learn how to cope, and live!

    1. Yes! Being able to cope means one is adaptable, and being adaptable, by definition, requires flexibility. We should all cherish this opportunity to learn flexibility and adaptability. Many, sadly, cling to stubbornness and rigidity, and think such clinging is a sign of strength. I don’t get it!

  21. It’s amazing how cognitive dissonance sets in when people who object to basic science in light of a pandemic (see: antivaxx). The new “normal” has always been a productive one. From feudalism, to the nation state, society has learned to adjust to an economy that changes with the material conditions of our reality without issue. We will continue to adapt the same way.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Do you blog? Why not post a link to your site here so we can check out your writing. Your comment suggests that you are an insightful writer.

    1. Thank you for commenting. If you’re ever looking for something to read that will change your life and outlook, check out Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

  22. The way of life we called “normal” was killing our planet, killing millions of species and relied on the exploitation of the most vulnerable. Nothing normal about that!

    1. I’m sure you’ve seen the reports about how clean the air got in a variety of countries during the time people weren’t racing around. Unfortunately, the exploitation of the most vulnerable has become all too normal, which explains why we’re so screwed up. Thanks for the comment. Do you blog? If so, why not post a link here so we can have a look. I’d love to look at some of your writing.

  23. Great read. The definition of normal has been challenged in many ways but totally believe that there isn’t one definition of normal and it really does depend on one’s values and outlook on life.

  24. i absolutely love this post! it truly did move me. change is really the only constant in life and we have to accept changes in our lifestyle to be able to move on. thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of writing with us, have a great day!

    follow @everythingtips for tips and recommendations if interested☺️It would mean a lot to me!🥺🤍

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