Given the headlines, it’s hard to feel good this year. We are limping our way through the holidays, watching the stock market for continued life. We are scanning the parking lots of malls for evidence of improved consumer sentiment, holding our collective breath at the prospective costs of what seems to be an inevitable war. We are wondering where the service cuts will come to allow tax reduction at the same time as the shadow of this new cost looms.
The only way I can personally pull myself out of a bout of self-pity is by counting my blessings. That is unbelievably sappy, I fear, but it’s totally true. That’s because for most of us, feeling good is a relative thing. We feel good about our lives when we favorably compare them against our fantasies or our neighbors or what we see on television. The trouble is, our fantasies got a bit unrealistic and ahead of themselves in the period just before the tech bubble burst.
“The World Values Survey, coordinated by Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan, since 1981 has sampled the changing beliefs and happiness levels of people in more than 60 societies representing 75% of the world’s population. One surprising principle emerges: an increase in wealth per head of population makes a big difference to the happiness level of the poorer nations but has little impact on those that are reasonably well off.”
People who are really poor can be made happier with just a little more money, but people who are rich (we’re all relatively rich here in this country) tend to level out; other things are required beyond more wealth to cause happiness. “The conclusions of Ed Diener of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are decidedly folksy. He lists good friends and involvement in activities that we enjoy as important keys to happiness. Folksy it might be, but there may be something to it. As studies show that ever-increasing wealth does not create ever-increasing happiness, more people will turn to the “post-materialist” values of community, belonging and self-expression.”
So here we are, on Thanksgiving with unhappiness and fear rampant, especially in the progressive community. I would posit that it would make each of us feel better to engage in the act of giving. Just when we’re feeling poorer as individuals, (or at least, since 1997 or so when the market was where it is now) we should test the theory that reaching into our pockets to share our wealth will give us a sense of community, of empowerment, and possibly of happiness.
There has not been a greater need in decades. Social services, the government is telling us, should be performed by private organizations and non-profits, not by a bloated central government. The theory is that if you give back taxes, people, always generous, will support this volunteer labor force. People ARE generous, but in spite of volunteer time given and donations made, this year it has not been nearly enough to keep non-profits of all kinds from suffering serious income shortfalls as foundations and benefactors cannot even honor previous commitments. The stressed army of volunteers and the quasi-volunteer relatively underpaid employees of these organizations need our help.
Trillium Asset Management gives all of our employees time to work with non-profits each month. Many of our employees take advantage of this opportunity. We are sharing the list of these groups and a few stories with you, and we hope that you can find resources to share with one or more of these organizations, or one of the many, many others that are so deserving in your world or neighborhood.
For the Holidays this year, we wish you all happiness, peace, courage and generosity of spirit even as we count our blessings.