A word on reality

I'm not sure if any of you subscribe to the daily e-newsletters from Apartment Therapy, but I wanted to share the latest email I received. AT's Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan has hit the nail on the head when it comes to my feelings about the recent recession and jobs being lost. I think all of this pain is bringing us to reality and helping us to discover what is most important to us.
Here's the email:

"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 today

I read the article quoted above this morning 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.

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 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."

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 and knowing can be a very grounding and gratifying experience. It allows us to get off the endless wheel of chasing our 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.

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan

This idea of finding out what is important to you in a time of struggle reminds me of so many people I talk to that were living in New Orleans when Katrina hit and the city flooded. They all talk about being able to start over, start fresh. Yes, they lost many valuable and personal belongings either from the storm or the flood, but now, years later, they look back and are able to see all the unnecessary items they were holding onto or the lifestyle they were living. Now they live more simplistic and decluttered lives. They appreciate the city and the people that are living here. Its a sense of awareness. An awareness that only comes when reality slaps you in the face.

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