The weather over the past month has been beautiful; but the pressure — juggling three lines of work — has been intensely, well, wonderful. Otherwise stated, considering the fatigue and angst that accompany this challenge, I am a happy boy. In fact, I might go as far as saying that I am blissfully content. Considering the long days and the focus required to progressively pick off the items on my seemingly endless to do list, some might feel I have earned the right to be just a little grumpy and stressed-out, and as my wife would attest, there is a little of that acting out going on. However, in all honesty, I am in a great place — enjoying the long hours, excited about life’s prospects and finding life to be quite exhilarating.
Finding happiness in difficult times — like this recession — is challenging. Whether you are at risk of losing your employment and income or are overworked trying to maintain production with fewer employees, you are likely to feel intense anxiety.
Karen Mazurkewich (The Financial Post, Saturday, March 14, 2009) talks about the “world’s collective mood”. Citing numbers from Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the United States, it appears that in December of 2008, the American mood hit a 26 year low. In less than one month, the percentage of Americans at least somewhat happy dropped from over two thirds to just 35%. It is not a huge stretch to suggest that it was during the pre Christmas period that the harsh reality of the worldwide recession really hit.
Clearly, people were not reacting to death, divorce or illness, the three principle “downers” in the happiness index; they were, of course terrified that the economic downturn would force their organizations to cut jobs. Although a job loss causes loss of family income and high levels of stress, the key issue is the stigma that comes with the loss of employment identity; and then, once bitten by job loss, the reality of a repeat performance is forever etched in your psyche.
After a friend experienced job loss for the first time, he was counselled to expect four more layoffs during his career, a prophesy which was ultimately fulfilled. He told me that after the second time he was “fired”, he began to accept downsizing as a reality of life.
“Although that first layoff was a shock and it left me feeling very discouraged and depressed, I knew from that point on that another firing was a strong possibility. So I conditioned myself to prepare for the worst and treat it as part of my normal routine”.
For my friend, when the next layoff took place, he still continued to “go to work”; however, the new interim work was finding a new position. He resolved that this process would be handled in as normal a way as possible; and just as important that he would treat himself with kindness — that means feeling dignified, having fun and staying positive.
Losing your position or being part of the downsized and leaner team under pressure to outperform competitors is stressful; so on this beautiful Friday, here are a few strategies you can employ to “be happy”, or at least strengthen your happiness quotient, when times are tough:
1. Buffer your life against crisis: Try to live a modest life. Always under consume your income (if you can). Save for a rainy day. Diversify your income streams. Have a back up strategy. Trying to keep up with the Jones is a death sentence. When your spending to achieve lifestyle equals your income, by definition, your always one month removed from bankruptcy.
2. Choose to be happy: This is easier said than done. If you are on the verge of bankruptcy, about to lose everything you have accumulated over a lifetime, you are clearly feeling intense angst every second. So in making this comment, I am not trying to minimize your pain or your challenge. Still, once you have done all you can do to address the challenge, allow yourself to be positive, see the glass as half full, avoid obsessing about things over which you have little control. Most material possessions are disposable; while spiritual pursuits are perpetually enriching.
3. Flip the concept: With every test comes an opportunity. It could be a new career direction or a chance to pursue a passion you have shelved for a good part of your life. By looking for the opportunity, you have adopted an attitude of search. Because you are searching you will find.
4. Celebrate your accomplishments: Take a look at the parts of your life that are working well: make an exhaustive list of the ways in which you feel blessed. Include all the little things that we typically overlook. You will be shocked when you discover just how much we have. Pamper yourself and your family. Get creative about the low cost things you can do to celebrate life with your family. Scour the net and newspapers for ideas, games. Spend quality time with family and friends.
5. Reach out to others in need: The best way to develop perspective on life is to serve others. I am not sharing this idea because it allows you to compare your plight to others less fortunate. I am saying this because serving humanity is good for the soul and helps to position giving in your life. There are many people in this world who have very little, largely because they have chosen a life of service to others.
I would love to hear your stories of trying to cope during difficult times. How did you deal with the challenge and with the emotions?