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March 23, 2009

Staying Happy During the Crisis

Brian Belardi
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Economics may not always be the dismal science, after all.

In a recent article in Columbia Ideas at Work, Professor Paul Ingram writes that despite being “pummeled by measures of our decline” — such as stock indices, home values and unemployment rates — our overall level of happiness has remained high.

Ingram, along with doctoral student Xi Zou, surveyed more than 500 businesspeople — mostly employed young executives in New York and London “on the front lines of the financial crisis” — to gauge their level of happiness.

What Ingram and Zou found is somewhat surprising: since the crisis began, the happiness level of their respondents has remained relatively stable.

Can this really be possible?

“This may come as a shock to anyone who works in finance or knows people who do,” Ingram writes. “There is certainly more moping and doomsaying in this group than there was a year ago,” he acknowledges, “but negative moods are not the same thing as low life satisfaction.”

Ingram suggests that people “consistently underestimate their capacity to adjust to negative life and career events, and overestimate the impact those events will have on their happiness.”

In his research, Ingram noted the following trends:

  • People disposed to comparing their position with others’ tend to be less satisfied with their lives.
  • People who are vigilant about protecting what they have and value — whatever it is — tend to be happier than those not as concerned with losing what’s important to them.
  • People in eager pursuit of some potential gain tend to be happier than those not focused on achieving a specific goal.

To read more about Professor Ingram’s research, see “How to be happy during the crisis” in Columbia Ideas at Work.

Photo credit: Pfala