Ray Williams: How To Stay Happy During the Recession

How can we be happy when our investment savings have dwindled, we’ve lost our job, or our house. The recession has had a negative impact on the lives of many people. Is it possible to be or remain happy?

This question was addressed in an article written Deborah Kotz in a U.S. News and World Report. Kotz quotes psychology professor Todd Kashdan of George Mason University author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, in which he says that people should stop trying to fill their daily lives with pleasurable activities and avoiding negative things. Rather, Kashdan argues, happiness comes from having a meaning and purpose in life, which is even more important during recessionary times.

Kotz identifies 10 things people can do to remain or become happier. Here are some of those suggestions:

  • Spend your money on experiences rather than material objects. This conclusion is based on a San Francisco State University study which concluded that experiences help reinforce the feeling of enjoying life, whereas material objects invariably leads to comparisons;
  • Pursue meaningful life goals. According to happiness expert, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, having positive intrinsic goals that aim at personal growth will give you much more happiness than temporary things like new possessions;
  • Learn how to live in the present moment. Occupying your thoughts about the past, or becoming obsessively anxious about the future will limit your capacity to be happy;
  • Nurture meaningful relationships. A study by the British Medical Journal found that surrounding yourself with positive and cheerful people can also make you happier, compared to surrounding yourself with a circle of complainers and negative people;
  • Focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in his best seller, Man’s Search for Meaning, still a best seller, that those people in the concentration camps that focused on their inner strengths and choosing how they viewed things, were happier and better survivors;
  • Practice gratitude. Lybuomirsky and Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism, cite research to show that people who consciously and specifically develop a practice of being grateful (particularly in writing), were happier, regardless of their circumstances;
  • Keep an optimism journal. Lyubomirsky reports that happiness levels increased with volunteers in an experiment where they kept a journal in which they wrote about positive dreams for their future, just 10 minutes a week;
  • Engage in acts of kindness to others. Lyobomirsky and other researchers conducted experiments in which people were asked to perform 5 considerate acts on a specific weekday, compared to a group that didn’t. The group that performed the acts of kindness had higher levels of happiness.

In my article in the National Post, “Staying Happy in Difficult Times,” I cited an experiment conducted by Martin Seligman, in which he asked a group of people who suffered from depression or negativity to engage in three activities: writing down 3 things that went well for the day and why; writing a gratitude testimonial to someone and delivering it personally; and using their signature strength in a new way. The results were significant. Seligman reported that 95% of the severly depressed people in the group became less depressed and 92% of the people in the group became happier.

While there’s no denying the negative consequences of our current recession, combined with the media obsession with reporting it, much can be done to maintain or increase our levels of happiness.

About the Author: Ray Williams
Ray Williams is the author of Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Transform Chaotic Workplaces, Breaking Bad Habits, and The Leadership Edge.
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