I recently got the flu. But awful as it was, it was wonderful, too. I was so grateful to be able to kiss my kids good night after a week of quarantine. I appreciated having the energy to empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, and sit at the computer again without the words swimming crazily on the screen.
I wondered if anyone experiencing the pain of the financial crisis was feeling something similar -- if there could be a silver lining in the darkness.
In his new book “Bounce,” psychologist Dr. Robert Wicks, who teaches at Loyola University in Maryland, writes that it’s both a joy and a privilege “to be alive in uncertain times.” “You begin to prioritize, and understand that the simple things you took for granted are more powerful than you ever thought.”
That’s been the experience of Karen Majoris-Garrison, 43, who lives with her husband Jeff, 50, and two kids, 13 and 10, in southeastern Ohio. Jeff got laid off from his supervisor job at a trucking company last July.
He is an accomplished bassist and songwriter who composes blues, rock and commercial jingles under the name J.D. Garrison, and he once played on stage with Bruce Springsteen. Now he’s taking a chance on making music his full-time gig.
Wicks says the first step to dealing with the stress of financial or job loss is acceptance. “I think people run around and spend a lot of time resisting, complaining and seeking to get back to where they were,” he explains.
“Then they have to see the possibility that there can be other ways they can have a fulfilled life -- to recognize their addiction to one instrument in the symphony. Once you have acceptance and unlearning, there’s that third step of taking action on the possibilities.
Discernment is like the lights of the car at night; you don’t see where you’re going to end up -- you see a little, and act a little, and act your way into a new kind of living.”
Finding What Matters
Gretchen Rubin, author of the book “The Happiness Project,” which comes out at the end of this month, has seen more than a few posters on her blog talk about how the economic downturn has made them happier.
“It’s because they feel that they’re more in touch with what really matters,” she explained in an email. “When their financial situation became rocky, they realized how lucky they were to have a supportive spouse, or a warm family, or good friends and neighbors.
When everything’s going well, it’s easy to forget how important these very basic relationships are, but when times are tough, they see again how central these bonds are.”
Wicks says someone dealing with a stressful change like a job loss needs a circle of friends (or one or two close ones) willing to play different roles. Initially, someone who is “sloppy sympathetic -- who says ‘you’re totally right’ is supportive and listens and encourages so you can ventilate,” he says.
“Once you’re done mourning, the second friend is someone who can try to get more clarity in terms of what strings are pulling you, someone more prophetic. Third is someone who teases you, because on the way to what’s important in life we take ourselves too seriously. Finally, you need an inspirational friend that will call you to be all you can be, without embarrassing you that you are where you are.”
Says Wicks: “It’s not the amount of darkness in people’s lives or even in the world that matters -- it’s how they stand in that darkness.”