Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Category: Psychology Page 1 of 2

happiness

119 scientifically proven ways to be happier

One of my all-time favorite topics. Okay so maybe 119 ways to feel happier feels a little overwhelming. So cherry pick. Try two, or six or twenty….

This guest post is from Health Grinder.

Everyone wants to be happy.

We’ve all experienced it at different points in our lives. And the feeling is so good that it’s probably the one thing everyone can agree they want to have in life.

Plus, happiness makes us healthier, lets us live longer, and be more productive.

So how can you be happier? In life, love, relationships and even work.

We’ve dug into tons of research studies to help you find the answer. Here are 119 ways to be happier. See which ones you can incorporate into your life.

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Why this nation is so happy

By Sgt. Samuel R. Beyers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sgt. Samuel R. Beyers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Live Happy magazine reports that Costa Rica ranks as one of the happiest places on earth across a number of happiness index scales (Ranked number 1 out of 151 countries by the Happy Planet Index, HPI).

When I went a few years ago, among the many places I’ve traveled, Costa Rica in particular, left a vivid sensory imprint I revisit in my mind, often.

There’s something quickly transformative about Costa Rica, perhaps it’s immersion in the lush biodiversity combined with meeting Costa Ricans (“Ticos”) who do more than merely recite their nation’s slogan, “Pura Vida,” the good life, they feel it.

And so, I’m not surprised the Happy Planet Index (HPI) ranked Costa Rica number one.  The HPI combines 3 factors:

  1. Sense of well-being. (The HPI survey asked respondents to imagine the worst possible life and the best possible life and then rate where they fall on the Ladder of Life). (Costa Rica = 7.3/10, excellent).
  2. Life expectancy. (Costa Rica = 79.3, excellent).
  3. Ecological Footprint.  (This measures sustainability. Can a country sustain its citizens without outside help. If for example, a country cut itself off from the rest of the world, could it be self-sufficient based on use of land for sustainability? Costa Rica = 2.5, average).

Lost Iguana Resort, Arenal region, Costa Rica

Lost Iguana Resort, sloped walk towards our room.

Simply put, Costa Ricans rate their quality of life high, live relatively long and while their sustainability/self-sufficiency isn’t superior, it’s right up there. Much of the land is protected under an aggressive conservation plan and so citizens live among unspoiled natural beauty, which as we know, closer to nature, closer to calm.

Let me add, Costa Rica has no military. 

“We are a happy country because we don’t know what it is to lose millions of people in a war,” says resident Carlos Arias . “We have no army. Our happiness is easier to achieve because we are easily amazed, and maybe that has to do with the fact that we haven’t suffered any big wars, like the rest of the countries in our continent.” Source: Live Happy magazine, April 2015.

Costa Ricans, Carlos explained, also have an easier time moving up a social class and making friends across classes. I wonder then, if some of their sense of well-being is feeling inter-connected which fosters mutual respect and that caring community we all crave.

What is superficially surprising, however, is that Costa Rica, a relatively poor country, whose per capita income is no higher than the international average, is consistently right up there (on happiness) with its wealthier counterparts. ~ “A Country Without a Military? You Bet!,”  by David P. Barash Ph.D, Dec. 13th, 2013

 

Arenal volcano, Costa Rica, Lost Iguana Resort

Arenal volcano. La Fortuna region, Costa Rica.

A couple of years ago my husband and I visited the Arenal volcano region (outside La Fortuna) to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I was at once relaxed like every vacationer who finally exhales, but Costa Rica brought me there faster.

Iguana Resort was surrounded by exotic flowers, plants and birds. The private lodging was nestled into the side of a mountain with access through small paved roads that sloped upward to our secluded room.

Lost Iguana Resort, Golden Gecko spa

Sitting outside Lost Iguana Golden Gecko spa. Costa Rica.

Our open air porch housed two (notably creaky but oddly soothing) wooden rocking chairs that faced the jungle and the misted Arenal (active) volcano on the horizon. You have no choice but to feel blissed when you’re connected to a country who cocoons visitors in natural beauty at every step.

Residents are extraordinarily polite (almost formal I’d read despite the informality of the country) and so on the advice of traveler reviews I reigned in my forward American gusto to keep my personality footprint respectful.

Still, everyone easily smiled hello and good-bye while they said the nation’s mantra, “Pura Vida,” the good life.  I quickly looked forward to responding with the same as a reminder that like the citizens, I was experiencing the well-felt Costa Rican life. 

stray but well fed dogs in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Well-fed stray dogs outside a restaurant in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Stray dogs also thrive in this relatively poor but largely economically sound nation.  Most residents in La Fortuna can’t afford to keep pets but they clearly care for the animals. I saw water bowls on almost every business stoop and people threw scraps for the dogs while they ate in outdoor air restaurants.   The loving communal care is obvious because despite the throngs of stray dogs, none of them looked starved for food or attention. 

Costa Rica’s verdant land and symphonic rain forest ripe with hundreds of varieties of birds was subconsciously meditative. Years back I gave up the pressure of trying to meditate except to intuitively fixate on nature’s theatre and gentle tree sways.

LI pool

The pool at Lost Iguana Resort, Costa Rica.

One afternoon at the resort I quieted my busy brain by walking circles in the shallow end of the resort pool as I scanned the property with binoculars looking for hidden birds I could hear but not see.

One-third of the year Costa Rica is covered with blue skies and cool breezes. Every day after 1pm it rains which for someone who craves long hours of bright sunlight is unappealing and moody. Usually however, the rains only lasted long enough to re-lubricate the land and to hydrated my skin in a wonderful permanent mist.

When I asked our canal eco tour guide if he ever considered living anywhere else he told me no, never.

If you grow up in Costa Rica, chances are you’ll stay even if you’re not rich.  If you live outside Costa Rica, chances are someone will insist you visit a country that seems to live abundantly happy, despite it’s modest abundance.

Postscript: Nadine Hays Pisani author of Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica & Living the Zero Hour Work Week. “I’ve had a very, very good experience. I don’t know if I could go back to how I lived before. I made a mistake by thinking I always had to have something new to make myself happy. I never considered that nature can make you happy, being outside can make you happy. I worked a 10-12 hour day. I was never outside.”

Why care about happiness ratings for another country?

“Most measures of national progress are actually just measures of economic activity; how much we are producing or consuming. By only using indicators like GDP to measure success we are not accounting for what really matters, producing happy lives people now and in the future.

The HPI puts current and future well-being at the heart of measurement. It frames the development of each country in the context of real environmental limits. In doing so it tells us what we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth.

It shows that while the challenges faced by rich resource-intensive nations and those with high levels of poverty and deprivation may be very different, the end goal is the same: to produce happy, healthy lives now and in the future. The HPI demonstrates that the dominant Western model of development is not
sustainable and we need to find other development paths towards sustainable well-being.” Source: Happy Planet Index

Get your bare feet on the ground: The many benefits of connecting your feet to the earth (called grounding or earthing) 

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3 ways to amp up happiness

happiness

Credit: pixabay.com

The happiness movement is in full gear with piles of positive psychology research and even a happy magazine (“Like” Live Happy magazine on Facebook for daily tips to amp up your smile).

Most of us already sense how we can get happy but now research backs what our gut’s been telling us.

Live Happy tips:

  • Vitamin D. Before the skin cancer worry we used to let the sunshine in to reap the benefits, including a natural mood boost. Everyone is happier with sunshine streaming into a nearby window but to get a full dose of D, you need a direct hit. So, if your skin type and schedule can take it, grab some sun for 15-20 minutes a day. Otherwise, supplement (I take 5.000mg a day of D3 (cholecalciferol), not D2 (ergocalciferol).
  • Exercise. Exercise boosts the protein BDNF (brain-developed neurotropic factor) which helps neurotransmitters function more effectively. Exercise is so helpful to battle depression it’s often included in treatment programs. The last thing you want to do however, is beat yourself up because you’re not exercising enough. Find an activity you enjoy that moves your body as often as possible. Walk, hike, take the stairs, park farther away, dance, bike, do yoga. Work up to 3-5x a week, 30 minutes or more.
  • Gratitude. Happiness researchers mention the benefits of feeling grateful all the time. So, how can we make gratitude convert into higher happiness? Notice the good in our everyday, even our yesterday, moments.Create a positivity (rather than negativity) bias. Say you had a really bad day yesterday, think back to what went right (more than you imagine) and what’s going right, right NOW. Practice active gratitude and in time you’ll re-wire your brain to notice more of the positive than the negative. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
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Feeling joy: living intentionally to re-wire your brain

joy, living intentionallyAs it turns out, we humans adapt pretty well to feeling awful or to living the less dire but equally joyless neutral and numb existence.

Kids, relationships, jobs, falling finances and health vie for every inch of our energy. For some, crippling pain or depression or anxiety or loneliness overshadows sensations of joy, stifling an existence that is designed for pleasure.

Soon the moments of joy we do notice become special occasion exceptions rather than our rule for living.

Embrace hedonistic happiness

And yet, as humans we’re designed to pulsate with pleasure, to feed our craving for self-gratification (hedonistic happiness) and to pursue a noble meaningful purpose that elevates our mind and opens our heart for the greater good (eudaimonic happiness).

And yet our happiness can be notoriously fed or doused by the company we keep.

Misery might love company but positivity is contagious and a habit like any other. If we align long enough to people who recite reasons why life is out to get them we reinforce a rut of joyless and pained living.

And while we don’t necessarily need to abandon every negative person in our lives (although a toxic relationship dump is a grand idea in some cases), we can become immune to their soul-sucking (however unintentional) vibe.

This emotional protection is, in a poetic sense, what Herman Melville in Moby Dick referred to as our “insular Tahiti,” a self-protected encapsulated practiced place of peace and joy we strive to live, despite external chaos.

Humans notice the negative: breaking patterns

All of us can unlearn parasitic patterns of negative thought that erode our well-being (thoughts that literally affect our health). I’m not suggesting daily pep talks or posting sticky note mantras on the fridge will radically change your well-being (although these can’t hurt), I’m suggesting making our thoughts and actions intentional, habitually feeling grateful and engaging in happiness-stoking activities that literally re-wire our brain from our human tendency towards the negative, to the positive.

Humans, explain evolutionary psychologists, have a natural negativity bias in order to survive earlier threats. When man spotted a lion (negative) he ignored the carrot (positive) because he knew the carrot wasn’t a threat and would likely be there tomorrow, but he might not there tomorrow if he ignored the lion.

We simply adapt to our day-to-day positive experiences (we wake up rested, the sunrise is stunning, we eat a nice breakfast, our child is dressed on time, our dog is loyally loving us, the traffic flows for a change, purple flowers cover the highway median, our headache is somehow gone).

We tend to notice the negative that interrupts the web of positive that makes up the majority of our day.

We can however re-wire our brain. Experts in the field of positive psychology often cite that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”  In other words, engage in happiness activities (what you truly love) over and over and over and you re-program your brain towards a positivity bias, and you feel better.

We now know our noggin is far more pliable than we ever imagined.

No longer do we need to become our doctor’s diagnosis and we can bathe our mind and body in feel good, healing and calming chemicals by, for example, spending time with others, feeling genuinely grateful and showing empathy towards others.

Walk barefoot on the sands of a quiet beach at sunrise, sync with the ebb and flow of the ocean as you whisper thanks to a divine and you will simultaneously relax your mind, breathe in spirit and soak in the earth’s abundant healing electrons (called “grounding” with 15 years of evidence to back its benefits).

Intentional living means we focus on the many everyday moments that continue to go well.

We can tap the healing powers of our natural world to create emotional and physical well-being.

We can use what we now know of neuroscience to maximize our brain’s capacity for joy.

We can embrace the unseen forces in the universe for our own good and the good of others, call this force God, divine, or if you prefer, energy.

We can merge science, our natural world and spirit to elevate our mind and body to a place of intentional and habitual joy. This isn’t a prescription for nirvana or bliss, that ethereal place we imagine only for monks, it is a real-life prescription for better living, through better feeling.

Image credit: Maggie McCall

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Your original perfection

reachingoutAll of us it seems, have two voices in our head. Sometimes all we hear is the critical nudge who insists we’re never enough, that we find a new job or new relationship or lose weight or parent better or volunteer more, that we make more homemade or wipe away more piles of dust.

It doesn’t matter how this voice got a hold of us, whether our mother or father or 8th grade math teacher or failed business or best friend or partner convinced us they were right until eventually we believed the lies and kept trying to please, it only matters that we shoo the voice away or we’ll never be fully full despite mounds of evidence of our built-in, born with it awesomeness.

But within us also sits a whisper, the gentle voice who insists that whatever they think, the others, and whatever we haven’t done yet doesn’t matter much. What matters are the multiple seconds of good we do that are more powerful than our imperfections and anger and fear or failures or never-accomplished triumphs.

Think back to Monday when maybe made you made your child laugh until she fell down or on Saturday and most days, when without thinking you smiled at the stranger on the sidewalk who looked vacant and sad or when you gently spoke up for a friend at a party who wasn’t around to defend herself against attack or when you let a woman cut in front of you at the grocery store and sucked in your righteous griping, and that you always, without fail, apologize when you make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings.

Your tiny angel efforts touch lives by spectacular inches.

If we pay close attention despite the noise of our day, if we reflect on gratitude for not only what we receive but for what we give, we begin to notice that we do more than merely ‘do no harm,’ we make a positive impact on others because we somehow sense that if we need to feel joy and hope, or at the very least not dreadfully alone, so must everyone else.

When we realize we make a difference in small but significant moments that add to the good emotions of someone’s else’s life and that the accumulation of these good emotions very much has a ripple effect; we begin to know that we are indeed, enough.

In a world filled with viral images of airbrushed perfection, with wars and global devastation and mean politics and pedophile priests and top 10 lists of hard bodies and high bank accounts and posts filled with lives that seem to shine brighter than ours, the applause from our internal cheering section sometimes fades to silence.

Instead of accepting ourselves as Original Sinners who chronically miss the mark, let’s notice our Original Perfection, times when we hit the bulls-eye of grace and care and compassion, times when we held our tongue with near impossible patience. Maybe then we do good from our gut rather than from guilt-of-falling-short which leaves drumming scars of never-enough.

I know people who can’t write checks to charity or can’t find time to volunteer between jobs, kids, colds, dying parents or too little sleep but they give the whole of themselves with daily decency. These are the people who ask “How are you?” to the stressed out cashier or somber man standing alone in the corner at the business meeting who looks awkward and uncomfortable.

This is enough. This is your God-given Original Perfection.

Maybe our kinder gentler voice is the divine tapping us awake, nudging us to notice our fleeting and seemingly unimportant gestures that add to the world rather than subtract, that leave a soft footprint of quiet radical radiance.

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Changing people’s minds? Start with self-esteem.

There should be a common body of facts that everybody can agree on and yet have a difference of opinion……It’s important to make a distinction between beliefs that people hold and the facts.” ~ Dana Milbank National Political Columnist, Washington Post.

We don’t like to admit we’re wrong, our ego flinches automatically.  Admitting we’re wrong after holding a view for a long time can be excruciating.  

A study out of Michigan finds that people rarely change their minds when presented with facts and will often become even more attached to their beliefs in the face of corrective information. 

Obama isn’t an US citizen.

*Vaccines cause autism.

George W Bush is the Antichrist

Hillary Clinton’s brain blood clot hospitalization was timed  around when she was supposed to testify about Benghazi 

September 11th was a US-created attack.

You’ll have better luck convincing people the earth is oblong than changing their mind about statements they’re convinced are true because they want to believe they’re true.

“The lack of humility makes it hard to take an honest look at one’s own views and opinions, causing people to stick with talking lines they know to be contrary to the facts,” says NPR correspondent Neal Conan in his report, “In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter.

Our tendency to hold tight to our beliefs doesn’t bide well for public health officials or politicians trying to shift opinion. What’s worse is the backfire effect. If you try to change someone’s mind by showing them irrefutable facts, while the person might agree with you on the surface, more than likely after you walk away, she’ll stick to her guns even more.

This phenomenon isn’t just because our ego is bruised; it’s because we don’t like what being wrong does to our identity and self-esteem, finds research out of University of Michigan published by Brendan Nyhan, public health researcher.

“The phenomenon is called backfire,” reports NPR’s Conan. “It plays an especially important role in how we shape and solidify our beliefs on immigration, the president’s place of birth, welfare and other highly partisan issues.”

Faced with our beliefs not jibing with the facts a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance, we dig for more information to validate our view.

“As human beings we want to believe, you know, the things that we already believe. And so when you hear some information that contradicts your pre-existing views, unfortunately, what we tend to do is think of why we believed those things in the first place,” explains Nyhan.

So how can we stop people from being fact-blind and hard-headed?

What’s interesting is when researchers in the Michigan study boosted subject’s self-esteem  before they were presented with corrective facts, subjects were more likely to accept the new information and change their beliefs. 

So besides vetting issues with numerous credible fact-checking sources which most of us don’t have the time or wherewithal to do, we need to be humble by default.  We need to accept that we might be wrong and that if we are, this doesn’t mean something’s wrong with us.

“This isn’t a question of education, necessarily, or sophistication. It’s really about preserving that belief that we initially held,” explains Nyhan.

“It’s important to make a distinction between beliefs that people hold and the facts,” says Dana Milbank National Political Columnist, Washington Post.  “So a lot of your emailers and callers have spoken about, you know, evolution or nuclear energy or guns and the death penalty, obviously, people can have very different opinions, and there should be a debate on all of these things. But there should be a common body of facts that everybody can agree on and yet have a difference of opinion.”

“‘So I’ve changed my point of view just really through I think, self-education and actually really great programs like this that are offered to us through NPR.” – NPR caller named Chrissie who changed her views on gun ownership (now pro) and the death penalty (now pro).

*P.s. Vaccines. I used to worry about too many vaccines too soon although when my daughter was young she got all of them on the standard schedule.  For now I’ve opted out of the HPV vaccine until I see more research, her 2nd chicken pox and Hepatitis A.  I discussed this with my nearly 16-year-old so she can decide how she feels about it.

Years ago I researched the autism epidemic and wrote an article.  Autism is a spectrum disorder caused by a number of complex genetic and environmental triggers. To pinpoint one overriding cause is to hold fast to a chosen view rather than to consider evolving ones.

Vaccines per se don’t cause autism, but the mercury preservative thimerosal can have a devastating effect in the first month of life, and on some children in later months.  (See Vaccine Do’s and Don’ts).  “This analysis suggests that high exposure to ethyl mercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines in the first month of life increases the risk of subsequent development of neurologic development impairment, but not of neurologic degenerative  or renal impairment. Further confirmatory studies are needed.”  (“Increased risk of developmental neurologic impairment after high exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccine in first.”) 

 

In my view the qualifier “some” children is reason enough to pay attention to what role thimerosal might play in autism incidence which now stands at 1 in 88 children.

We have more to lose with partisan deadlock that leads to public mistrust, missed opportunities and health crises when we stick to our views despite evidence to the contrary.

It’s the most humble people who are open to facts, despite facts erasing all they thought they knew of the issue and therefore themselves, who break through to the other side.

Footnote:

NPR: “When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions.”  

Politifact

Snopes

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How he looks at you. How you look at him. Attractiveness unraveled.

Image

Image credit: fashioncurse.blogspot.com

Men, women and how we view attractiveness. (Where I agree with Dennis Prager and where I don’t).

Driving home the other day I heard the Dennis Prager Show. As a conservative Republican he’s not my usual radio show pick (although I try to at least sample all political points of view).

But I agreed with what he said, mostly (see below for where he lost me).

Dennis discussed how men tend to view women’s attractiveness. He offered some surprising insights including that men are far less critical of how their wife or girlfriend looks than women realize, assuming we at least try to look decent.

The effort alone counts.

But unfortunately (and erroneously) women think we have to try to measure up to Charlize Theron, Angelina or Cindy Crawford or even lesser beauties to compete for our mate’s attention. (I can’t imagine where we’d get such a crazy paranoid notion except for the daily delivery of gorgeous models plastered on every media platform across every continent).

Those sexy supermodels Dennis reminds us, are often waif thin with a boyish body. Flat-chested and not much curve. Men like curves. Supermodels are mostly boys with boobs, he points out.   Read more….

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How to stop bad news from feeding on itself

Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles

When economic bad news piles on as it has since 2007, end of times feels certain. The truth is however, economies cycle. What falls off the cliff creeps back and in the process, we gain insights and wisdom.  So stay hopeful.  Happy days will be here again.

Doom and gloom popular programming

Apocalyptic gloom has become highly marketable. Shows like Doomsday Preppers andDoomsday Bunkers have added their names to the reality TV roster. Website Shtfplan.com offers visitors this friendly tagline: When it hits the fan, don’t say we didn’t warn you.  

The popular Left Behind series, first introduced through novels then with a series of movies, offers the Rapture end of times warning. As the presidential campaign approached Dinesh D’Souza rolled out his movie 2016: Obama’s America, as an omen to voters. Obama’s mission were you to accept him as President, D’Souza claimed, is to even the global playing field and in doing so, deflate our nation’s superpower influence.

“He (Obama) wants Americans to have less so the rest of the world can have more.” D’Souza tells Piers Morgan, “He wants America to have less power so that other countries can come up in the world. He’d like to see a multi-polar world in which America is not the sole super power.” (Piers Morgan Tonight. August 12, 2012).

So, take heart. If the Rapture doesn’t swallow you up, ready yourself for economic and societal collapse, war, pandemics, geomagnetic reversal, the electromagnetic pulse, terrorist acts, nuclear incidents and fuel shortages.

Feel better yet or are have you curled into a fetal ball of “Why bother?”

Essentially the gray skies are going to clear up message of what’s going right in the world has the distinct disadvantage of grabbing less air time and social media stir. What’s going right in your daily existence has the mundane quality of just sitting flat and unnoticeable. Good news just is.

Bad news however, irritates and buzzes; it jars our eyes and ears awake with adrenaline and fear.

I will say however, anyone with an ounce of sensitivity wouldn’t expect citizens terrified about where their next mortgage payment, health care coverage or meal will come from to be Pollyanna about the nation’s state of economic affairs. There is however, something to be said for acknowledging that economies (and politicians) cycle.  Moreover, with each economic crisis our nation gains new knowledge about where things went terribly, terribly, wrong and more importantly, where things went incredibly right.

Crash psychology

“For the past 15 years, home-price changes and sales volumes have either been boosted by a bubble mentality or crushed by crash psychology,” said David Stiff, Fiserv’s chief economist in a March 2013 Orlando Sentinel online article. 

The term “crash psychology” struck me.

I assume it has something to do with what Jim Taylor refers to in his July 2012 Psychology Today.com article as herd behavior, the bandwagon effect and recency (paying more attention to latest data than putting market conditions into long term perspective) and loss aversion (an inclination to avoid losses rather than produce profits).

“This is it, the big one,” Sanford of the old sitcom Sanford and Son grumbled before he grabbed his heart for the nth time.

Just last night I heard someone say to a friend who doesn’t happen to share her political view, “Yeah well, good luck. See if you have any money left in the next few years.” As she said this another woman smirked and nodded emphatically across the table.

In my experience naysayers don’t need a crushing presidential election to feel the world is going to pot. Naysayers are universally bi-partisan yet unilaterally pessimistic. They see the world changes as an eventual avalanche and that the latest election out of their favor is simply speeding up our demise.

But, how many false alarms before we decide the Great Depression isn’t coming, again?

Not that I want to downplay or arrogantly dismiss the harsh economic blows affecting millions. The reality is, we have had plenty of fuel to create real fear and economic end of times worry. People are hurting and cheerful mantras won’t hold off creditors. But, previous generations have been hit by recessions and generations to come will as well.

Since December 2007 our economy and global reputation has been beaten up. Businesses scaled back dramatically. Markets crashed to record lows. Real estate dumped. Housing starts halted. School budgets were slashed. Unemployment skyrocketed and remains high in many areas. Gas prices are headed towards Europe’s. Entire countries are being downgraded. Healthcare costs are now a primary cause for personal and small business financial ruin. And, one of the United State’s historical industrial strongholds, the auto industry, is limping along.

For an added kick to our lagging morale, we watched our government save Wall Street (which I was all for given the potential fall-out). The sub-prime mortgage mess was a house of cards with multiple players including overzealous lenders and consumers, borrowers confused by loan fine print and families just trying to tread water. But in the end, throwing a life raft to the Too Big to Fail market makers who knew better than to invest in deep murky waters — hurt.

Pile on this much economic instability in a short time span and indeed, the world can feel apocalyptic.

Negative economic warnings hide good news

Like the hot issue climate change, while the frequency of out-of-range weather patterns areabsolutely influenced by human behavior, it’s also a product of cyclical weather changes. So too, massive changes to our economy and worldwide standing may seem sudden and cataclysmic, but they occur over time and courtesy of multiple administrations’ policies.

Yet, time and time again our nation returns from recessionary slumps and economic turmoil armed with new knowledge. We’re painfully forced, as we’ve seen with the recent budget crisis in Congress, to adapt, create new or compromise, unless however, you believe we’re destined to repeat our past.

While I do believe in cyclical human and earth behavior, I also believe we’re destined to make new mistakes, not old ones. We evolve.

It’s hard to believe we’re actually advanced beings given Snookie, Jerry Springer, Dance Momsand Tosh O. But indeed, humans have progressed from our early knuckle dragging days.

And, with every crisis we’re forced to re-visit and re-balance. Consider the gas shortage, savings and loan crisis, Enron, the Exxon Valdez, over lending, over spending, over reliance on oil, over fishing, over eating. Too much regulation and we pull back. Too little, we add oversight.

Optimistic outlook in economy

Take a look at our economic indicators (Kiplinger economic outlook). They reveal policy ripple effects and red flags long, long in the making, arrived tipping points, but not eventual collapse or the Great Depression.

Take a look at these positive economic signs:

  • GDP crept ahead at a snail-like 0.1-percent pace in last year’s closing quarter, but at least it didn’t contract, as initial estimates had shown.
  • There is still no reason to look for an early end to the lengthy period of extremely low interest rates.
  • Inflation will edge up a bit this year, but not to troublesome heights.
  • On the positive side, and despite a bump upward at the start of the year, core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, will see only muted increases.
  • Spending by businesses this quarter gets the benefit of renewed tax breaks for new or leased equipment. The recent spike in gasoline prices has run its course.
  • Crude oil prices will take a breather.
  • But expect overall retail sales to climb about 5% this year
  • Look for the trade deficit to widen by 2% in 2013, presenting a slight headwind to U.S. economic growth
  • Export growth will be held in check by recession in Europe and moderate growth in China.
  • We expect imports to increase about 5% for the year, with most of the growth coming in the second half.
  • Gains in the housing market will solidify this year.
  • Overall, we anticipate sales of existing homes to climb about 7.5%

Granted I cherry picked, which is exactly my point. Look for positive signs. Become aware of the negative only to the degree it informs key decisions about your life.  For example, it’s useful to know which industries are cycling, dying and expanding. And, it’s good to know that every financial and investment guru can be dead wrong — or dead right.

Pick your point of view.

In June 2011 James Altucher wrote in the Wall Street Journal that an impressive rise in the stock market was coming…”The market fell like a brick on Wednesday. People can’t handle any piece of bad news without saying ‘this is the big one.’ But it’s not going to happen. Even God took one day to rest. The market every now and then needs a day or two to rest. Maybe even more than a day or two. But over the next 12 to 18 months I expect to see Dow 20,000.”

Nearly two years later, it appears he was on the right track. Andrew Tangel, LA Times, March 6, 2013 writes:

“The Dow Jones industrial average has barreled to an all-time high, erasing $11 trillion of losses racked up when the financial crisis began five years ago. The stock market’s revival — with the Dow at a record 14,253.77 — has some respected minds on Wall Street suggesting the Dow will puncture 20,000 in just a few years. But, as investors may recall, the last few times the stock market seemed headed for records, disaster soon followed.”

Granted it took five years to reach the record high. As well, my husband a trader, reminded me that had we not crashed in 2008 we would have hit 20,000 soon enough. Moreover, the stock market isn’t the best signpost for recovery because it’s not adjusted for inflation. However, consider Daniel Gross’s recent analysis:

“Regular readers will note that I’ve long been pushing back against the notion that the U.S. is in economic decline. A stock market index like the Dow and the S&P 500 may not be the best barometer of national well-being. But it does say something about the ability of U.S.-based companies to thrive in an era when domestic growth is slow and when most of the growth takes place in unfamiliar foreign terrain.”

Certainly Gross or any other pundit isn’t the final word on predicting economic movement. You’ll find plenty of people ready to pick apart his argument line by line. But my philosophical point, and I generally write from philosophical underpinnings, is that the market is on the up, again. The Second Great Depression never came, as more than a few people predicted it would.

Of course there’s numerous times when people predicted a strong bull market and it turned horribly bearish. Outside of getting into the factors around market timing (which I don’t study) if you’re in the “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” mindset then zoom in on Andrew Tangel’s hedging last line:

“But, as investors may recall, the last few times the stock market seemed headed for records, disaster soon followed.”

Can’t we enjoy a moment of celebration? Or is that too naïve, uninformed and resting on our laurels? After five years of getting the recessionary crap beat out of us we still have more economic naysayers who insist on a cover-all-bases prediction caveat of: “It looks good, but it won’t last” than eternal optimists.

Well true, it won’t last. Cycles, cycle.

But, I’d rather wake up every day cautiously optimistic than confidently pessimistic. It feels better. Be on the look out for good news. It’s out there, or it’s predictably on its way.

Further reading: 

Good News Network

The Best Industries for Starting a Business Right Now

Sooner or Later, Bear Market Will Growl Back.

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School shooting: It’s not just our own kids we need to hug

school shooting, Connecticut shooting, mental illness, violence in children

Perception is reality but the probability of a mass killing, while seemingly high, is actually quite low.

The probability we’re missing critical signs among our mentally ill?

Much higher.

In this NPR interview, Jack Levin, co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University in Boston helps listeners understand the profile of mass murderers.

First, do we need to be more afraid?  Read more ….

 

 

 

Image courtesy of stockimages – view portfolio

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Hiring out labors of love: Outsourcing our inner selves, love, kids and other personal realms

Photo: Free digital photos.net

Labors of love, once our exclusive personal domain, are now available for hire. But when we outsource our inner lives do we lose more than we gain?

Paying for personal services used to be a privilege afforded only the wealthy. Now professionals are accessible to the middle and upper middle class chasing the increasingly elusive free time.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of the book, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, describes outsourcing our inner lives as paying for “emotional labor.” The transactions are however, complex despite the fact or maybe because they leave our closest relationships out of the equation.

Interested in a no-strings-attached friend to listen to your problems over lunch or to join you on a trip to Europe? Companies can rent companions. Need a “mom” or “grandma” to attend an event? Filler family members are available. Can’t settle on the right name for your child? A nameologist will narrow the list.  Read more….

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