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Discussion: From the Paradox of Affluence to the End of Affluence?
Purpose: Generate discussion of how the current economic crisis may affect individual happiness and the importance/relevance of positive psychology.
Note: It is probably important to point out that no one would deny the hardship and unhappiness of millions of Americans that have lost their homes, jobs, or businesses and seen their retirement savings dwindle, or the anxiety of millions more who fear that they may suffer one or more of these losses. The discussion below assumes that the economy will eventually recover or at least improve. The question is, will our current crisis cause us collectively to rethink the meaning and basis of a happy life?
Positive psychology emerged partly in response to the unprecedented affluence of the last several decades. We became richer, but not happier, and rates of depression increased significantly, raising the question of if money doesnt make us happy what does? In his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Schwartz describes two philosophies concerning the unprecedented freedom to choose products and lifestyles within advanced consumer cultures (see Chapter 6). A maximizing philosophy (get the most) increases the pressures to choose the best possible option and may paralyze action because of the myriad of choices available, and may also lead to self-blame when decisions dont turn out well because we made the choice. People who follow a satisficing philosophy (good enough) are content with good enough decisions and choices. Research shows that compared to satisficers, maximizers are less happy, have lower self-esteem and higher levels of neuroticism and a greater risk of mild depression.
What reactions and lifestyle changes have you seen in peoples response to the economic downturn?
2. Rethinking Happiness:
Are there positive lessons to be learned from economic uncertainty and hardship? Is there an analogy between individual posttraumatic growth and the possibility of collective growth following our economic trauma? Might people change how they think about the connection between money, consumption, and happiness? Might we see a shift from a maximizing to an enforced satisficing philosophy and increase in well-being, as research suggests? Will people count their blessings, feel a renewed sense of community, and focus on the most important things in life? Or, when the economy recovers will it be back to business as usual? Is talk of positive change out of place given the misery caused by financial hardships?
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