It is hard to not notice the air of negativity nearly everywhere you go these days. You could feel it in the shopping malls during the holiday season. Consumer confidence hit an all time low in December. Housing prices continue to drop. Retirement accounts are on a roller coaster ride. It is as if everyone across the US (and perhaps even the developed world) has fallen into a mild psychological depression in sympathy with our economic woes.
This is understandable. Many people feel like they are losing so much for which they have worked so hard. The cause was out of most people’s control, and many think it was due to the greediness of a few individuals. Regardless of the cause, many economies are struggling and this has people worried, anxious, and slightly to severely depressed.
I want to take a step back and ask, “Why?” Why is it that during tough economic times people suffer such psychological effects? I think part of the answer is based upon how we measure standard of living. In most cases, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is used to measure the standard of living. Under this definition, during a recession (reduction in a country’s GDP), people’s standard of living is in decline. It seems pretty logical that if your standard of living is in decline or threatened (and a message reiterated by nearly every media source on a daily basis), you might begin to feel depressed or anxious.
Personally, I have a problem with this definition of standard of living. There is an underlying assumption that our standard of living and ultimate happiness is based exclusively on financial measures.
I propose that we think about things differently. As a start, let’s consider the folks at Redefining Progress and their Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Instead of considering just economic factors, GPI considers how well people are also doing socially. It takes into account such things as: income distribution; housework, volunteering, and higher education; crime; resources depletion; pollution; long-term environmental damage; changes in leisure time; defense expenditures; lifespan of consumer durables & public infrastructure; and dependence on foreign assets.
Whether these are the perfect additional measures is not the question to explore right now. What is important is that we acknowledge that the total costs of goods and services produced, a.k.a. GDP, is not the best measure of our quality of life or progress. Case in point: the US is the world’s richest nation but only the 16th happiest.
In this time of recession, let’s remind ourselves that money does not bring happiness. Instead, let us challenge ourselves to spend a couple moments every morning upon waking to identify a few sources of optimism and things for which to be grateful. I have a feeling none of us will need to look very hard. Me? For starters, I have wonderful family and friends, I am following my dream of entrepreneurship with Atayne (albeit in a super tight credit environment), and there is an 8th season of Scrubs.