The U.S. economy shrank for the last two quarters leading many to speculate that we may already be in a recession. But while the technical process of deciding whether this constitutes a recession grinds on, one thing is for sure. Anxiety about the economy is clearly already skyrocketing.
One analysis by developer marketplace Lemon.io found Google searches for 'will i lose my job in a recession' are up 9,900 percent. Searchers for 'what to do when you get laid off' are up 336 percent. Entrepreneurs don't have the exact same worries as employees, but many are doubtless feeling the same sense of impending doom.
Does a shrinking economy have to shrink your joy?
Does that mean that the coming months are inevitably going to be unhappy ones? Does a shrinking economy always mean shrinking joy? Yes and no, says Harvard professor Arthur Brooks in his latest Atlantic column focused on the science of happiness.
There's no denying recessions take a toll on the national mood, he allows. But that doesn't mean individuals can't take effective steps to try to insulate themselves from at least some of the ambient gloom.
"The unhappiness that accompanies recession is real, and you're not irrational if you feel it. Your instincts might tell you to fight these bad feelings by focusing on the problem intently and managing your affairs meticulously. But that's not actually the best way to alleviate your suffering," he writes.
If obsessively checking your bank balance isn't the right response, what is? Brooks offers three rules to give you the best chance of getting through the current economic turmoil with your happiness intact.
1. Stop checking.
Are there times of acute disruption when entrepreneurs will need to monitor your financial arrangements on a nearly minute-by-minute basis? Yes, but these should be the very rare exception to the general rule of setting up sensible systems and putting them on autopilot.
"Make a prudent set of basic rules about your spending, savings, and investments. For example, make sure that you automatically save 15 percent of your income every month if you can, and if possible, have a rule against carrying any credit-card balances. Invest your savings in a way that makes sense over the long run--get some advice here if you need it. Then don't monitor your finances daily or even weekly. Make a rule to look once a month (or once a quarter) at most," Brooks advises.
2. Turn off the news.
Brooks is far from the only expert arguing you don't need to be glued to cable news or refreshing your news site of choice every 10 minutes to be a decently informed citizen in a democracy. A mountain of research shows excess news consumption wrecks your peace of mind.
"Bingeing on information is a tempting way to try to eliminate the feelings of uncertainty that our current economic moment might inspire. But consuming news and commentary about the economy can become compulsive, and it won't help. I can assure you that the experts don't know what is going to happen either," he insists before laying down the law: "Cut your news consumption down to 45 minutes or less, once a day. No cheating."
3. Remember you're not alone.
It's easy to feel like a personal failure when you see your savings or the value of your home drop. But chances are excellent that your financial woes are shaped by larger forces beyond your control and shared widely. Brooks urges those stressing about their declining financial fortunes to remember they're far from alone.
"In a general recession, we are all in it together. You (probably) didn't make some uniquely stupid investment decision against everyone else's better judgment; you just got caught in a market downturn," he writes. "Remember all the people losing money like you, but who are in tougher circumstances--maybe they are a few months away from retiring, or counting on their nest egg to buy a house this fall. Feel some sympathy."
Looking for lots more information on the science of how tough economic times impact our mood? Check out Brooks's complete column.