Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Surviving the Financial Crisis?

Are you surviving the financial crisis?

While the mainstream media seem more interested in spinning stories of foreclosures, bankruptcies and the like, millions of Americans who have gone green in either their homes, lifestyles or businesses have discovered a degree of sustained prosperity, security and stability, despite the tough times both nationally and globally. That’s not to say they’re living high on the land. But that’s the whole point for many who have chosen to live lean, green, and with the health of their community in mind, focusing on what they value, not on what they can consume next.

There’s Tazza D’oro, the fair trade and community-focused coffee house I just visited in Pittsburgh, where sales are up by double digits; this, despite the restaurant industry as a whole seeing sales plummet by about 43 percent last I checked with the National Restaurant Association. New Society Publishers, the publisher of my latest books ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance, both printed on 100 percent post consumer waste recycled paper, continues to prosper, perhaps even more so with books that provide positive solutions for people hungry to make a difference. For people who took their early summer 2008 Economic Stimulus Package check and invested it in energy efficiency and conservation, paid off a credit card balance, or like my wife and I, added a photovoltaic system to power our all-electric CitiCar, we realized both a return on our investment and return on environment while needing less money to pay the bankers or utility companies.

Here’s what I’ve learned from both personal experience over the past twelve years and in talking with many others about how to survive a financial crisis:

(1) Invest in the future and in your community

In a time when 401ks are quickly turning into 101ks, many Americans are exiting the debt-based economy, paying off credit cards, canceling car loans, paying down mortgages. Suddenly, when we don’t need to earn money to pay the banks, we rediscover what freedom means. We don’t save for the future, we invest in the one we want to live in, filled with green building materials, fairly traded products, and crafted as a part of the restoration and reuse, place-based economy, sometimes costing us only pennies on the dollar. From an old building turned we into a strawbale greenhouse heated by solar thermal system and biodiesel (we make with a neighbor) to various renewable energy systems, we are pleased — happy — that what we invest in does, in fact, make the world just a little better.

(2) Grow (at least some) of your own food in a kitchen garden

The less we need to buy from large corporations and multinational food conglomerates, the less we need to earn. Since we all need to eat, getting a kitchen garden going in our backyards, rooftops or patios is a great — and relatively easy — way to nourish our bodies. When you get really good at it, you can share the surplus with friends, family, and community food banks. Don’t have an apple tree? See if there is someone in your area who does and might enjoy sharing it with you.

(3) Mind your own triple bottom line green business

Millions of Americans are following their passions and sense of purpose when they launch their own dream green business that makes the world a better place. A triple bottom line business that focuses on people, planet and (some) profits doesn’t try to do less harm to the environment or people. It restores, enhances and revitalizes the very social and ecological community in which it is based, in what is call the restoration or living ECOnomy.

(4) Keep it local and buy local

The closer to home you stay, the less money you need to spend to get where you need to go. Plus, by getting involved in your immediate community, you can better enrich yourself and your neighbors. The “wealthiest” people during the Great Depression were often the ones with the greatest number of friends and family.

(5) Go fossil fuel free

The quicker we realized that by breaking free of our fossil fuel addiction meant greater self-reliance and self-sufficiency, the more we pushed ourselves on our farmstead of 5.5 acres. By sidestepping rising energy prices (not to mention the broader and more severe implications related to climate change from burning all these fossil fuels), we rediscovered that to a large extent, we could live well relying on solar energy and biofuels. Implementing various conservation and efficiency initiatives were a huge step in this process (from using light bulbs to Energy Star appliances and line-drying our laundry), providing immediate returns and reduced energy bills.

(6) Live beneath your means

How we live our authentic life, for many of us, has very little to do with the goods of life. Perhaps it’s time to downsize our house, sell the second car, and empty the self-storage. According to the National Self Storage Association, self storage is about a $220 billion industry where many storage customers might find that their 5x5x5 cube costs more to store the items than the items themselves are worth after a few years. Increasingly, people who are choosing to live beneath their means are defining our happiness qualitatively, not quantitatively. We EAT THE STRAWBERRY, when ever we have the chance. It’s the simplicity of enjoying our family, friends and the community in which we live, today — not sometime in the future.

When it comes down to it, for millions of Americans, our happiness is not found on the shelves at Walmart. It’s found in our hearts, our community, our meaningful work, and our health.

Oh, one more thing.Β  According to a recent, decades-long happiness study co-authored by Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical Schools, and James Fowler, a political science professor at University of California-San Diego: people who hang out with happy people are happier!Β  This conclusion is based on participants’ response to the question: “How often during the past week would you say: I enjoyed life? I felt hopeful about the future?”Β  So, stick to people who see the glass half full and tend to have a “we can do it” attitude.

How are you surviving the financial crisis, or, better yet, prospering despite one?

Artwork from Clip Art for Free

  1. Lori Allen

    This is a very thoughtful post. I wonder what you would reccommend for those of us who tried item #3 (using all of our savings and home equity) only to have it go bust in the current economy.

    Where do I go now that my dream is dead and I am in debt (for the first time since student loans AND I wasn’t this deep then)? I already lead the life you otherwise propose. I have been local and organic and gardening for 15 years. I have lived below my means, remodeled houses, kept cars for 225K miles (and still going), used public transit, etc. That is how I got the savings and the home equity. What now?

    When does the book for failed ecopreneurs come out?

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Dear John Ivanko,

    The road ahead will not be an easy one, I suppose, precisely because the colossal mistakes my not-so-great generation of elders are making now simply cannot be repeated by the children. Thankfully, new leaders are emerging. Some have called this phenomenon the appearance of “transformational” leadership. That is also what I am observing.

    The unrestricted consolidation of filthy lucre and political/military power, the unbridled expansion of economic globalization, the unrestrained per-capita overconsumption of limited resources and the unchecked human overpopulation on the relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planetary home God blesses us to inhabit, could soon become unsustainable. Perhaps the humane, reasonable, sensible and wise regulation of these activities will make make it possible for the family of humanity to build a patently sustainable, distinctly human world order, one that adequately enough models key biological systems and physical structures of Earth.

    New leaders with new ideas are coming forward. A new day is dawning. My hope is for members of my generation to become helpfully engaged by openly acknowledging and effectively addressing the challenges presented to humankind rather than by perversely mounting a “rear-guard action” in denial of looming, human-driven threats to human wellbeing and environmental health.



    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
    established 2001

  3. sam hdc

    Thanks for the article it was very interesting. I would love to grow my own vegetables. My dad grows his own and apart from the pleasure he gets from growing them they taste beautiful.

  4. John Ivanko

    Hi Lori:

    Failure is a part of life…and it’s not “fun.” Try to see it as an investment in knowledge. What did you learn? Why did the enterprise fail? Then take that knowledge to your next endeavor. Most entrepreneurs have set-backs and failures. That’s how we learn.

    So, keep on keeping on. As we write about in ECOpreneuring, seek to model nature and create diverse enterprises, which fosters stability. There are many people who want to support your work to make the world a better place.
    For the Earth,

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