Chin Up in the Downswing

positive economic news during recession

The Recession Can Make You a Better Person

May 20, 2009 05:25 PM
by Anne Szustek
The recession has inspired positive holistic change in American society, and what might be bad for business may actually be good for people.

Recession Can Inspire Healthy Choices

Eating home-cooked meals rather than fast food, spending more time doing quiet, peaceful activities with friends and loved ones and having more time to sleep are among the many hidden blessings inherent in unemployment, and by extension, an economic downturn. In addition, today’s youth are likely to be more careful in their investing during future decades. “The social changes may well be the next big story of this recession,” The New York Times suggested on Feb. 1. 

Volunteering Way to Share Talent, Network

Many unemployed people are using their new free time to help others. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that volunteering is on the rise during the recession.

After Deborah Cross was laid off from her job, she particularly missed her health insurance benefits, because her husband was getting treated for cancer. But spending time at the hospital inspired her to help those less fortunate than herself. Cross joined Hands On Atlanta, which had her lend management and marketing expertise to nonprofit groups.

Not only did she excel at her volunteer post, her pro bono work garnered another benefit: a paid position as the chief marketing officer of a health information startup. As she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “My next employer was one of the people who saw me in action and said, ‘Let’s go to lunch and talk. I could use someone like you.’” Cross continues to volunteer for Hands On Atlanta.

Recession Making New Yorkers Better Citizens?

New Yorkers, despite their reputation for being “self-insulating”—as University of Minnesota consumer psychologist Kathleen Vohs refers to them in a New York Magazine article—have also hopped on the recession volunteer bandwagon. Food delivery charity Citymeals-on-Wheels reported a 32 percent y-o-y increase during the first quarter of 2009 in the number of volunteers. Another charity dedicated to delivering food to the infirm, God’s Love We Deliver, saw a 20 percent increase during the same period, New York Magazine reports. And volunteer placement service New York Cares has had to give some new volunteers phone orientations rather than in-person ones, due to the sudden surge of new recruits.

At the crux of Vohs’ current research is the way that people’s worldviews change following losses of money; apparently, people become more sensitive to physical and emotional pain. “Writ large, this finding could have interesting ramifications,” writes New York Magazine’s Jennifer Senior. “It could mean that a financial calamity would create a more neighborly, civic-minded city.”

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