Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Finding Happiness in a Bad Economy

June 21st marked the largest meeting of positive psychologists in history; around 1,500 of these thinkers met in Philadelphia to discuss what can bring happiness into people’s lives in the midst of so many finding themselves unemployed. Often in American culture, people tend to group happiness with professional success and monetary gain. At a time when so many Americans find themselves with little to no income, many are asking themselves whether it is possible to be happy while having less.

Psychologist Ed Diener, thinks so. At a recent meeting of 1500 psychologists in Philadelphia, he stated that, “Many who try to live on less money find they are soon just as happy as they were before.” While it seems that those who struggle daily to make ends meet do report a lower level of happiness, monetary gain has a minimal effect on one’s mood in the long run.

Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, reports that involvement in various activities, finding one’s purpose in life, and maintaining strong relationships are the key ingredients to happiness. While work is an important factor, the level of one’s income does not play as big a role as people tend to assume when considering an individual’s overall wellbeing.

This theory has been dubbed the “vitamin theory of work.” It states that “work provides structure and emotional experiences such as exercising control, socializing, and helping others, that make people feel better about their lives. The amount they are paid is not a key factor.” A few key activities may help you remain happy through times the economic downturns. Put your focus on these three areas:

Prioritize relationships. Spend extra time with family and/or strengthen existing relationships. Rekindle old friendships. Visit elderly relatives. Relationships have a much higher influence on happiness than monetary income.

Pick a goal and stick to it. Taking initiative, staying focused on a goal, and reaching success after hard work all bring a feeling of accomplishment which leads to a greater sense of well-being.

Create fun. Partake in any other activities that have always been enjoyable. It can be reading a book, playing an old favorite board game, going on a run, renting a movie; there are countless fun activities that can be done while paying little to no money.

Financial struggles are a common part of the life cycle. During those times, it is perfectly natural to become unhappy and frustrated. Finding strength in friends and family, while taking time for yourself will help you endure the hard times. Lifestyle changes may be permanent, even when the gloom that comes with economic troubles passes.

(Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer – June 21, 2009 “Psychologist converge on Phila. to study happiness”)

Written by: Mara Ivey, Matthew Laxer, and Emma Kate Wright