Hard Times and Happiness

Reviewed Aug 10, 2016

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Summary

  • Stress rises when the economy slumps, but downturns can be times of personal growth.
  • Hard times favor those who face them with optimism and persistence.
  • There’s more to life than work and money.

Wealth beats poverty.

It’s far better to have a job than not.

Unemployment can be devastating not just to your income but to your core sense of well-being.

The shorter and milder the recession, the better.

These are realities, and it’s important not to make light of them.

At the same time, say psychologists observing the latest economic downturn, the relation of hard times to happiness is not clear cut.

Some people are able to treat stressful economic times as a time of opportunity and growth. Those who cope successfully with the downturn may gain a greater sense of confidence. It can leave them happier than before.

Many paths to happiness, beyond money and work

What enables these people to bounce back? Baylor University psychologist Michael B. Frisch says they “are very stubborn and optimistic” and believe that there are many paths to happiness beyond money and work.

“What resilient people do is that they look at this as an opportunity.” For what? It can be a different line of work. Frisch tells of a laid-off software salesman, 1 of his clients, who loved gardening and, in his 50s, went into business successfully as a landscape designer.

Focus on the non-material

The opportunity can also be emotional and spiritual—a chance to focus on non-material sources of happiness such as relationships. Women may have an advantage over men here, says Philadelphia psychiatrist William M. Uffner. Women tend to be more focused on relationships, he says, while “men tend to become more isolated” by hard times: “They share less and they’re tough; at least they’re supposed to be.”

A global poll taken by the Nielsen organization in April 2008, as economies were sinking worldwide, makes a similar point. It found that women were happier than men in 48 of the 51 countries surveyed. "Because they are happier with non-economic factors, women's happiness is more recession-proof,” said Bruce Paul, Nielsen’s vice president of consumer research.

Uffner says a new focus on relationships, for men or women, can have an economic payoff as well. With kids especially, some of the best family fun is downright cheap. A camping trip with the kids might cost a couple hundred dollars, far less than going to Disney World, he says. “But it may be more fun for the kids because they get to spend time with their parents.”

We’re in this together

Hardship also can be easier to endure when it is widely shared. One reason is that the competition is less demanding. “Everything depends on what you call the reference group,” says Jean Cirillo, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in New York City: “If your reference group is everybody who is losing their jobs and losing their investments, you feel very successful. The only problem is feeling guilty.”

The other reason is a shift in society’s attitude toward wealth and its display. Conspicuous consumption is out, and the pressure to keep up with the Joneses tends to recede in recessions. “When everybody’s having a hard time, it becomes a cool thing to cut back,” says Cirillo.

Fire your (negative) friends

Though recession can create new openings for happiness, it doesn’t make happiness easy. You have to work at it, probably more than you do when times are good and the mood of those around you is upbeat. One way of improving your outlook is to edit your emotional environment by avoiding naysayers as much as possible.

Frisch says you may have to “fire your friends” if they can’t be positive. “Our emotions are contagious, like a cold,” he says. “So if you surround yourself with people who are positive, supportive and believe in you, you are more likely to accomplish your goals.”

And just between you and yourself, Cirillo suggests repeating a simple message: “I’m not my money.” 

Choose your response to hardship

All recessions end, and good times do return. When they do, your actions and attitude now may determine if you come out beaten or energized. “Whenever a person masters any stressful situation, generally they come out stronger as a result,” says Uffner.

The stress can’t be wished away. But how you choose to deal with it can make all the difference. Happiness isn’t out of the question in hard times. In fact, a positive attitude may be more powerful than ever.

By Tom Gray
Source: Michael B. Frisch, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience, Baylor University; William M. Uffner, M.D., medical director, Friends Hospital Older Adult Program; Jean Cirillo, Ph.D.

Summary

  • Stress rises when the economy slumps, but downturns can be times of personal growth.
  • Hard times favor those who face them with optimism and persistence.
  • There’s more to life than work and money.

Wealth beats poverty.

It’s far better to have a job than not.

Unemployment can be devastating not just to your income but to your core sense of well-being.

The shorter and milder the recession, the better.

These are realities, and it’s important not to make light of them.

At the same time, say psychologists observing the latest economic downturn, the relation of hard times to happiness is not clear cut.

Some people are able to treat stressful economic times as a time of opportunity and growth. Those who cope successfully with the downturn may gain a greater sense of confidence. It can leave them happier than before.

Many paths to happiness, beyond money and work

What enables these people to bounce back? Baylor University psychologist Michael B. Frisch says they “are very stubborn and optimistic” and believe that there are many paths to happiness beyond money and work.

“What resilient people do is that they look at this as an opportunity.” For what? It can be a different line of work. Frisch tells of a laid-off software salesman, 1 of his clients, who loved gardening and, in his 50s, went into business successfully as a landscape designer.

Focus on the non-material

The opportunity can also be emotional and spiritual—a chance to focus on non-material sources of happiness such as relationships. Women may have an advantage over men here, says Philadelphia psychiatrist William M. Uffner. Women tend to be more focused on relationships, he says, while “men tend to become more isolated” by hard times: “They share less and they’re tough; at least they’re supposed to be.”

A global poll taken by the Nielsen organization in April 2008, as economies were sinking worldwide, makes a similar point. It found that women were happier than men in 48 of the 51 countries surveyed. "Because they are happier with non-economic factors, women's happiness is more recession-proof,” said Bruce Paul, Nielsen’s vice president of consumer research.

Uffner says a new focus on relationships, for men or women, can have an economic payoff as well. With kids especially, some of the best family fun is downright cheap. A camping trip with the kids might cost a couple hundred dollars, far less than going to Disney World, he says. “But it may be more fun for the kids because they get to spend time with their parents.”

We’re in this together

Hardship also can be easier to endure when it is widely shared. One reason is that the competition is less demanding. “Everything depends on what you call the reference group,” says Jean Cirillo, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in New York City: “If your reference group is everybody who is losing their jobs and losing their investments, you feel very successful. The only problem is feeling guilty.”

The other reason is a shift in society’s attitude toward wealth and its display. Conspicuous consumption is out, and the pressure to keep up with the Joneses tends to recede in recessions. “When everybody’s having a hard time, it becomes a cool thing to cut back,” says Cirillo.

Fire your (negative) friends

Though recession can create new openings for happiness, it doesn’t make happiness easy. You have to work at it, probably more than you do when times are good and the mood of those around you is upbeat. One way of improving your outlook is to edit your emotional environment by avoiding naysayers as much as possible.

Frisch says you may have to “fire your friends” if they can’t be positive. “Our emotions are contagious, like a cold,” he says. “So if you surround yourself with people who are positive, supportive and believe in you, you are more likely to accomplish your goals.”

And just between you and yourself, Cirillo suggests repeating a simple message: “I’m not my money.” 

Choose your response to hardship

All recessions end, and good times do return. When they do, your actions and attitude now may determine if you come out beaten or energized. “Whenever a person masters any stressful situation, generally they come out stronger as a result,” says Uffner.

The stress can’t be wished away. But how you choose to deal with it can make all the difference. Happiness isn’t out of the question in hard times. In fact, a positive attitude may be more powerful than ever.

By Tom Gray
Source: Michael B. Frisch, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience, Baylor University; William M. Uffner, M.D., medical director, Friends Hospital Older Adult Program; Jean Cirillo, Ph.D.

Summary

  • Stress rises when the economy slumps, but downturns can be times of personal growth.
  • Hard times favor those who face them with optimism and persistence.
  • There’s more to life than work and money.

Wealth beats poverty.

It’s far better to have a job than not.

Unemployment can be devastating not just to your income but to your core sense of well-being.

The shorter and milder the recession, the better.

These are realities, and it’s important not to make light of them.

At the same time, say psychologists observing the latest economic downturn, the relation of hard times to happiness is not clear cut.

Some people are able to treat stressful economic times as a time of opportunity and growth. Those who cope successfully with the downturn may gain a greater sense of confidence. It can leave them happier than before.

Many paths to happiness, beyond money and work

What enables these people to bounce back? Baylor University psychologist Michael B. Frisch says they “are very stubborn and optimistic” and believe that there are many paths to happiness beyond money and work.

“What resilient people do is that they look at this as an opportunity.” For what? It can be a different line of work. Frisch tells of a laid-off software salesman, 1 of his clients, who loved gardening and, in his 50s, went into business successfully as a landscape designer.

Focus on the non-material

The opportunity can also be emotional and spiritual—a chance to focus on non-material sources of happiness such as relationships. Women may have an advantage over men here, says Philadelphia psychiatrist William M. Uffner. Women tend to be more focused on relationships, he says, while “men tend to become more isolated” by hard times: “They share less and they’re tough; at least they’re supposed to be.”

A global poll taken by the Nielsen organization in April 2008, as economies were sinking worldwide, makes a similar point. It found that women were happier than men in 48 of the 51 countries surveyed. "Because they are happier with non-economic factors, women's happiness is more recession-proof,” said Bruce Paul, Nielsen’s vice president of consumer research.

Uffner says a new focus on relationships, for men or women, can have an economic payoff as well. With kids especially, some of the best family fun is downright cheap. A camping trip with the kids might cost a couple hundred dollars, far less than going to Disney World, he says. “But it may be more fun for the kids because they get to spend time with their parents.”

We’re in this together

Hardship also can be easier to endure when it is widely shared. One reason is that the competition is less demanding. “Everything depends on what you call the reference group,” says Jean Cirillo, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in New York City: “If your reference group is everybody who is losing their jobs and losing their investments, you feel very successful. The only problem is feeling guilty.”

The other reason is a shift in society’s attitude toward wealth and its display. Conspicuous consumption is out, and the pressure to keep up with the Joneses tends to recede in recessions. “When everybody’s having a hard time, it becomes a cool thing to cut back,” says Cirillo.

Fire your (negative) friends

Though recession can create new openings for happiness, it doesn’t make happiness easy. You have to work at it, probably more than you do when times are good and the mood of those around you is upbeat. One way of improving your outlook is to edit your emotional environment by avoiding naysayers as much as possible.

Frisch says you may have to “fire your friends” if they can’t be positive. “Our emotions are contagious, like a cold,” he says. “So if you surround yourself with people who are positive, supportive and believe in you, you are more likely to accomplish your goals.”

And just between you and yourself, Cirillo suggests repeating a simple message: “I’m not my money.” 

Choose your response to hardship

All recessions end, and good times do return. When they do, your actions and attitude now may determine if you come out beaten or energized. “Whenever a person masters any stressful situation, generally they come out stronger as a result,” says Uffner.

The stress can’t be wished away. But how you choose to deal with it can make all the difference. Happiness isn’t out of the question in hard times. In fact, a positive attitude may be more powerful than ever.

By Tom Gray
Source: Michael B. Frisch, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience, Baylor University; William M. Uffner, M.D., medical director, Friends Hospital Older Adult Program; Jean Cirillo, Ph.D.

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