AT on: The New, New Thing - Reality

AT on: The New, New Thing - Reality

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Maxwell Ryan
Mar 12, 2009

"It's kind of like we all went overboard," said Ms. Taylor, 33. "And we're trying to get back to where we should have been." ~ from the NYTimes Monday

I read the article quoted above with a mixture of amusement and satisfaction - not quite in the "I told you so..." kind of way, but more of a "Phew!..." kind of way. Written by Shaila Dewan, this article that is one of many lately that are attempting to identify not economic shifts that are going on around us, but the internal shifts that are redefining our sense of reality in a way that hasn't been experienced in generations...

>> Conspicuous Consumption, a Casualty of Recession - NYTimes

While for many the news is grim - my friend who works in finance, calls what is happening right now, "a car crashing in slow motion" - and jobs are being lost left and right, I keep thinking that what we are witnessing is a return to Reality (with a capital R), which is a place that we haven't been in for a long time. And, despite the pain, this reclaimed sense of Reality is one real bright spot that is worth talking about.

In the go-go times that we've been in for so long, many assumptions have just become accepted that have papered over a subterranean sense of unhappiness that we've not been allowed to admit. One of the biggest, I think, was that there was something beyond hard work that would lead to riches and the ability to leave behind the relatively poorer rabble. Call it "financial agility" or "cleverness" or "luck," there has been a gold rush mentality for a long time, that created a numbing effect not only for those left behind, but also for those in front.

With any rush, the overall effect is rarely one of happiness. As everyone rushes, family, friends and the earth gets left behind, stress sets in, and a greater sense of fending for oneself becomes common. Just last year there was an article in Fortune Magazine about "unhappy millionaires," those folks who were successful, but not successful enough by just yesterday's remarkably rich metrics to feel successful or financially secure.

"I think this economy was a good way to cure my compulsive shopping habit," Maxine Frankel, 59, a high school teacher from Skokie, Ill..... "It's kind of funny, but I feel much more satisfied with the things money can't buy, like the well-being of my family. I'm just not seeking happiness from material things anymore."

Deep down we long for reality, and we're getting a taste of it right now.

Or, as the Dalai Lama says, the goal of life is simple, it is to be happy, and when cravings are unchecked happiness is impossible.

As our economy "de-leverages" and the illusory power of credit and debt is removed from every facet of our lives, we are starting to see things for what they are worth, and to see ourselves for what we are worth. Just yesterday I visited a home that a year ago was priced at $1.3 million dollars and just sold for $750,000. That's not a huge discount, that's what it's actually worth when you remove the inflation of an economy based on borrowed money.

Unlike the loss of super-powers, knowing what things are really worth can be a very grounding and gratifying experience. It allows us to get off the endless wheel of chasing our material cravings, and get back to simply seeing what it feels like to aim for happiness.

As Katherine Hable said at last week's meetup, "We are our own stimulus package," and I believe that.

We live in a remarkable country, with remarkable people, and with the collapsing of the debt bubble, we may just rediscover how good that reality feels.

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