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(Published: 2010-05-23)

Here we go again. The stock market is fluctuating wildly, countries are going bankrupt, and who knows where the Dow will end up tomorrow? If your happiness is dependent on the size of your 401K, you may shortly find yourself in need of a happiness boost. It’s a good time to take a deep breath and ask yourself: Are you happy? And if you’re not happy, do you know what would make you happy?

How does one go about measuring happiness anyway? Time magazine tackled that question in a November 2009 article titled: “The Happiness Paradox: Why Are Americans So Cheery?” The author, Nancy Gibbs, reports on The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, recently designed by experts to measure our collective happiness. It works like a Dow Jones Average, surveying 1,000 people daily, 350 days a year, asking them about their happiness levels.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that when the markets tanked in 2008, the Index’s happiness numbers took a nosedive. But I WAS surprised to learn that one year later, happiness had rebounded to a higher level than before the crash.

How is it that at least some aspects of the Great Recession appear to have made people feel better? Gibbs says it has to do with reducing “Expectation Inflation.” Americans found the upside of the downturn by cutting the super-sized American Dream down to size.

For more on the paradox of happiness, I recommend Gretchen Rubin’s book “The Happiness Project.” The NY Times bestseller, a practical guide to finding happiness, is packed with fascinating tidbits about the science of happiness and lots of suggestions for creating your own Happiness Project.

In a recent blog entry titled “Nine Paradoxes to Contemplate as You Consider Your Happiness Project,” Rubin offered these contradictions to be embraced:

1. Accept yourself, but expect more of yourself.
2. Take yourself less seriously; take yourself more seriously.
3. Use your time efficiently, but also make time to play, to wander.
4. Strive to be emotionally self-sufficient so you can connect better with others.
5. Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer.
6. Think about yourself so you can forget yourself.
7. Control and mastery are key elements of happiness; so are novelty and challenge.
8. Lighten up—but also take yourself more seriously.
9. The days are long, but the years are short.

Rubin advocates changing your life without changing your life. To do that, you have to change how you THINK about your life. That’s a great reframe!

I hope your 401K rebounds, but in the meantime you might want to check out Rubin’s book.

The Happiness Project

Happiness Nest Egg

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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