A tune to drown out recession's grind

March 17, 2009|By Janet Gilbert

Listen: Can you hear it? That pervasive, synchronized, "gwak-gwak-gwak"?

It's the collective teeth-gnashing of Marylanders across all socioeconomic strata about the condition of the U.S. economy. Stocks are tanking, retirement accounts are receding like an investment advisor's hairline - but look on the bright side: Now is a good time to invest in the bruxism retainer business.

We used to be able to assess someone's financial success by the make and model of her vehicle or the cut of his clothes. Now we can tell how well-off people are by the length of their bicuspids. You've got your banking executives sporting their candy-corn smiles. Popcorn kernel teeth? Probably in the housing industry. I'm wondering how President Barack Obama's going to look when he's flashing the kind of smile you normally see on a 6-month-old.

All this tooth-grinding is just an unfortunate side effect of the shared American disease now reaching epidemic proportions: investmentitis dementia. It manifests itself in the need to talk about personal financial losses to perfect strangers in elevators, grocery aisles and, of course, the lines for lottery tickets in liquor stores. Who's got it worse? The single parent who just got RIF-ed, or her parents who retired last year? How bad is your IRA looking? Are you behind on your bills?

The early warning signs of investmentitis dementia are easily identified: a person's conversation is peppered with denial, anger and blame. Once you move past this stage, you want to get smart on the disease - and believe me, there's plenty to read. Blogs on the Internet, financial analysts' reports on television, and the headlines in the few remaining newspapers are serving up the same rancid leftovers: Stocks are plummeting, layoffs are increasing, and in general it appears that things are going from bad to worse.

Unfortunately, with investmentitis dementia, the more you know, the worse you feel. Because this disease spreads through bad attitude, which is not adjusted upward with frequent hand washing or a good night's rest and plenty of liquids.

When you think about it, a lot of bad stuff happens in daily life over which we have absolutely no control. For example, recently I was standing in line with a large gathering of people and some individual near me had astounding, Olympic-caliber body odor. I really could not do anything about this pungent situation, so I just tried to focus on something positive. It was unpleasant, yet I knew it was temporary. I did not curse God or fire off a letter to the General Assembly.

My point is, there are a lot of things we can do to fight off investmentitis dementia, and keep ourselves and our children healthy.

We can listen to upbeat music at least once a day. I recommend "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" by the Police. Spend a few minutes trying to figure out what this song is about. It is more productive than blaming corporate CEOs and lending industry executives.

We can consider the silver lining: We are exhibiting great strength of character against overwhelming odds, not unlike Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

We can avoid people and activities that make us feel bad, and seek out people and activities that make us feel good.

To quote Sting: "De do do do, de da da da, that's all I want to say to you."

Janet Gilbert, a freelance writer, lives in Woodstock with her inspiring spouse, ebullient children and obstreperous dog. Visit her at www.janetgilbert.net.

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