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Don't worry, be happy.

Posted Sep 23 2009 8:59pm

I've spent a fair amount of time lately writing about ways society and we as individuals can and have failed to respond constructively to anxiety, stress, and fear. Which is why its nice to learn, in a recent USA Today article, about people who are making and researchers who are studying healthy responses to fear. For example:
* At the U. of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, researchers are gathering evidence of the importance of "psychological wealth" in addition to financial wealth in dealing with stress successfully; as one researcher puts it, "Wealth really means having what you need, and money gives only one part of what we need."

* In South Dakota, a website designer has cultivated a positive outlook by keeping a gratitude journal -- and now has created a gratitude-journal iPhone app.

* A woman in Texas has built community by creating an online Secret Society of Happy People to help folks cope. Currently there are more than 7,000 members.

These days, of course, lots of folks are coping with what might be called recession anxiety. Less effective ways of dealing with recession anxiety include overemphasizing the value of money and underemphasizing that of positive experiences:
Psychologists also have found that being highly materialistic affects happiness, with those who are most concerned about money and possessions actually being less happy.

Keeping too close tabs on the economy, such as daily monitoring of economic indicators that have been on a roller-coaster ride since the recession began, also hinders happiness.

"We find that people whose moods are up and down a lot are less happy. People who are less reactive to every event, in general, are happier," Diener says.

But what about what money can buy? Previous research has found that using money to pay for something novel, social or experiential brings more happiness than buying things.

Some newer studies confirm these results. San Francisco State University researchers presented findings earlier this year to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, based on what participants said about their purchases.

They said they thought eating out or buying theater tickets was money better spent than on more things, such as a new tech toy or clothing, and the experiential purchase provided greater happiness for themselves and others, regardless of the amount they paid or their income.

If you're thinking, "Huh, sounds like a good time to invest in entertainment stocks," you might be missing the point.

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