How is the current economic downturn affecting your physical and psychological health? Studies show that recessions are generally good for our physical health and not as good for our psychological health. A good dose of generosity may be all you need to offset that psychological effect.
Christopher Ruhm of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro studied decades of public health data and found that physical health actually improves during an economic downturn, about a half-point decline in the death rate for every point of increase in the unemployment rate. Michael Gerson of the Washington Post makes additional sense of these findings:
During tough economic times, people seem to increase exercise, take fewer car trips, reduce smoking and cook healthier foods at home — choosing to control the remaining things in their lives they are capable of controlling.
Studies like Ruhms have shown that unemployment can cause a kind of recession flu, a funk that leads to stress smoking, unhealthy comfort foods and that problematic remedy, alcohol. Gerson cites studies that have tied personal financial crises to heart disease, depression and suicide. But he also says,
Without question, the more acute social problems — such as crime, illegitimacy — are concentrated in areas of highest poverty. But sociologists and criminologists have long pondered an apparent paradox. During the Great Depression — with about a quarter of Americans out of work — crime and divorce declined. During the relative prosperity of the 1960s and 1970s, crime rates shot up and families broke down.
Our current recession is generally agreed to have been caused by irresponsible lending (by both lenders and borrowers) which led to price inflation, to greed on the part of business leaders, and to risk-taking to fuel that greed. As we assess and react to this, our economy pulls us back into an examination of our own values, and into a smaller circle of community which may be closer to home and more caring of each other.
The Generosity Offset
If we can realign our moral compasses, we might care more about each other’s well-being. And if we can be more careful in our spending, giving more time and care to our families, neighbors, and assisting others who need it, we may find that we are less affected by the economic situation.
Studies have shown that this generosity makes us happier people. Peter Singer in Newsweek says that,
…the good person is also—typically—a happy person. A survey of 30,000 American households found that those who gave to charity were 43 percent more likely to say they were ‘very happy’ about their lives than those who did not give.
So rather than dwelling in fearful thoughts about your own well-being now and in the future, try:
- Increasing your exercise by driving less
- Stop or reduce your smoking and moderate your alcohol consumption
- Spend more time with people you love, and cook more healthy foods at home
- Find ways to care for those who are in greater need
- Continue giving charitably, as much as you can, and give more thoughtfully
These are times of opportunity, when we can realign our values with our lifestyles. Although we know some of the problems are out there, let’s take advantage of an opportunity to improve some problems that may be in our own back yards.
Before giving, the mind of the giver is happy;
while giving, the mind of the giver is made peaceful;
and having given, the mind of the giver is uplifted.