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Nosedive. Freefall. Meltdown. Pick the description of your choice. It doesn't matter what we call it. By just about every metric that matters, the U.S. and global economies appear to be knocking on the door of financial apocalypse.
And that may just be excellent news.
Not necessarily for our bank or retirement accounts, but for the quality of our lives. That's the verdict of some experts who say that economic calamity creates the chance for us to become happier and healthier.
The basic idea is that in good economic times we're inclined not to take the best care of ourselves. Instead, when the economy is running full bore on all cylinders, we work more and become pressed for time as a result. That leads to eating less-than-healthy restaurant and convenience meals loaded with fat and sodium, failure to exercise, less time with our families, increased stress, lack of sleep, and other signs of a life grown off-kilter. When the financial climate gets stormy, work hours shrink and money gets tight. We tend to stick closer to home, eat more home-cooked meals, and find ourselves with more time to spend with our families, take care of our health, and do all the things we never had a minute for when we were trying to keep pace with a superheated 24/7 economy.
Of course, it's entirely possible to achieve a healthy balance between work and diet, family, fitness, and everything else without first enduring a fiscal implosion. It's also obvious that economic progress creates higher standards of living and that economic catastrophes create a host of negative effects quite apart from financial impacts.
Still, the idea that a stalled economy could lead to a more time better spent and a boost in certain aspects of personal health is an interesting silver lining to contemplate while we watch our wealth vanish into the money pit we call our economy.
It's clear that there's something to be said for slowing down and that there are distinct advantages to doing so whether the slow-down is voluntary or imposed on us by forces beyond out control. It's a bit like the dizzying rise in oil prices. Yeah, it can ruin your day to spend all the money you made during it tanking up your jalopy just so you get home at night. But at the same time, we're driving and polluting less. We're sticking closer to our own communities and carpooling, thus strengthening family and neighborhood bonds. We're spending more time doing things that matter and less time stuck in traffic at the mall. Renewable energy investment and use is up. Energy waste is down. There's plenty to celebrate.
We are learning how to live differently and, I would argue, how to live better. We are rediscovering the people we need and want to be and the recreating the life we'd all probably really rather live, an existence predicated not on wealth and technology and extremity, but one made by hand from community, family, nature, and the simple but profound joy they bring.
The financial crisis may, quite strangely, turn out to be a tool we can use to further that trend. If it does, it may very well be worth it. Because I have always maintained that our world was never meant to get this small or move this fast. The current economic crunch may just be our generation's last best chance to find out what better things are waiting for us, regardless of economic conditions.