The economic turmoil of the last few weeks – and especially the last few days – has New Yorkers feeling sad. Lots of people are losing their jobs. Lots of familiar institutions are changing or vanishing. Even people who aren’t directly affected will be indirectly affected in many ways by what is happening on Wall Street, because it plays such a major role in the life of New York City.
When we’re faced with serious setbacks, psychological mechanisms kick in to help us see positive aspects in the situation. I’ve been struck by how often people – especially those directly affected — search for opportunities for “post-traumatic growth.”
“This is really showing us what matters,” said one friend. “We have a beautiful family, we have our health, this isn’t a catastrophe.” Someone else said, “It’s been amazing to get so many emails and calls from people who are checking to see how I’m doing – I realize how many friends I have.”
People also use the downward-comparison strategy; they find a way to be grateful by realizing how much worse their situation could be. “We almost moved to Hong Kong, we’re so lucky we didn’t do that.”
People are also taking time to do ordinary, pleasurable things that help give them a sense of normalcy and relief. When I was doing the research for my biography, Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I remember reading a story that an advisor told – I may not have the details right, but as I recall: When this advisor walked into the West Wing during the Cuban missile crisis, he heard Kennedy speaking in a low voice. He assumed that JFK was meeting with someone about the crisis, but then he saw that Kennedy was sitting with his young daughter Caroline in his lap and was reading her a story. The advisor realized that this was one of the ways that Kennedy was staying cool – giving himself breaks from the tension by taking moments with his family.
Other people comfort themselves by reminding themselves to take the long view. “I just keep telling myself, a year from now, this will all be over,” said a friend. “In ten years, it will just be a distant memory.”
This isn’t to say that it’s not appropriate for people to feel unhappy or depressed under certain circumstances. It’s normal and often even helpful to experience negative emotions. But finding ways to make yourself feel better, or to contain the negative emotions to one part of your existence, can make it easier to bear a difficult time.
All these coping mechanisms help people deal with an unhappy event. What strategies have you found useful, to deal with a major challenge in your life?
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.