Happiness is Hot--Even When the Dollar is Not
Some unexpected findings from the economic downturn are turning up, and ironically, they all point to emotional highs. Medical anthropologist Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, reports, “People are determining what matters most, enjoying a period of introspection and shoring up your personal resilience. Happiness and quality of life are stacking up as higher priorities, as evidenced by a halt in high-end spending, and less attention paid to “high maintenance” vacations or resort travel.
Jordan cites higher rates of cancellation among non-essential business travel, increasing webinar traffic and an interesting resurrection of low- or no-cost entertainment from the Great Depression generation: poker night, card games, potluck dinner parties and yes, even bowling leagues.
“Think of the activities that your elder parents or grandparents talked about doing ‘back when we didn’t have a pot to pee in’ as the expression goes, and you’ll see a resurgence of belt tightening that goes beyond the simply shopping less, and instead revives a quest for meaningful social interactions and purposeful living.”
In like fashion, the health promotion, psychiatric and therapeutic professions are equipping their toolboxes with more resources for helping clients achieve greater happiness and life satisfaction. APA spokespersons talk about a shift in focus from uncovering childhood wounds to maximizing personal functioning through enhancing one's sense of subjective well-being. “Perhaps it was the effect of a new coaching initiative, but more psychologists are interested in adding these skills to their practice,” stated Kate Cancel, a health care administrator for a large practice group in North Carolina.
The National Wellness Institute’s annual conference theme will focus on happiness and positive psychology in July 2009 (www.nationalwellness.org), and happiness researchers just gathered for the first North American “Happiness and Its Causes” conference last month. As experts such as Paul Ekman, Sonja Lyubomirsky and others examine the necessary antecedents for living with more optimism and joy, studies reveal that the happiest among us are seldom the wealthiest. Taking happiness seriously often starts with developing new skills in presence, or staying “in the now,” as advocated by such popular authors as Eckart Tolle, recently promoted in Oprah’s webinar series.
Randy Taran is director of The Project Happiness Handbook, which uses a project-based learning approach featuring seven levels: Happiness, Obstacles to Happiness, Self-Reflection, Myself - My World, Self-Mastery, Compassion, and Interdependence. As students progress through the seven levels they discover strengths, insights and skills to empower them on their lifelong journey.
Perhaps the greatest lesson from these turbulent economic times is that although your 401K may not be within your control, your happiness quotient still is. Learning to savor life’s joys and develop strategies for finding meaning apart from material success may be the most fortunate lesson you can learn.
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Dr. Meg Jordan, PhD, RN is a medical anthropologist, Department Chair of Integrative Health Studies and Professor at California Institute of Integral Studies.