Boomer Women: Beliefs In Transition

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In case you thought the recession has dampened Boomer womens' spirits, guess again. If anything, results of a recent survey by (the largest online community for women 50+) reveals that our coping strategies and belief systems are reaching new levels of effectiveness in the face of heightened challenge and change. In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 of the 500 respondents report that "the older I get, the more resilient I become."

Not that we aren't being tested. Some of the issues that are testing our faith include the concern that we won't be able to get the same level of financial and healthcare benefits our parents did (62%) with an additional 5% (for a total of 67%) who either trust our financial advisors and institutions less than before the recession or "never trusted them in the first place."

It is no wonder that the majority of us report that we are less optimistic in regards to our expectations about the future than we used to be. But with maturation, we are taking even this sobering dose of reality in stride. Amongst the majority of us who reported that we are less optimistic in regards to our expectations about the future, over half reveal that this is not an issue of concern. In fact, the majority of us "accept this".

Drilling down more deeply, we begin to get a picture of the belief set that can allow resilience and eroded optimism to co-exist in what is emerging as the dominant psycho-spiritual ethos of respondents. In fact, many of this generation of women who have demonstrated repeatedly their ability to reinvent themselves in the face of challenge and change, are retooling their belief set at the deepest levels.

There appears, for starters, to be a move away from popular formulations of positive thinking. For instance, twice as many respondents believe that they "might influence the things that happen to and for them, the ultimate outcome is in God's hands" than believe that they "create their reality and that if they think positively, they will get what they're asking for."

This is notable, given the pre-Recession popularity of the book The Secret, which after two appearances on Oprah shot up to the top of the bestseller lists in 2006. As described in Wikipedia, The Secret's primary tenant is "that an individual's focused positive thinking can result in life-changing results such as increased wealth, happiness and more."

While many Boomer women have been (and continue to be) influenced by positive thinking, it is a sign of the times that the book that has been recently getting a lot of buzz on Vibrant Nation, and elsewhere, is Barbara Ehrenreich's recently published Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Ehrenreich traces the roots of new age spirituality to the motivational popularism of such American classics as Think and Grow Rich!, the book that urged previous generations to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and apply themselves self single-mindedly to the achievement of the American dream.

In our survey, only 13% identified with the motivationally-inspired statement: "I am strong and focused on achieving my goals regardless of the obstacles in my way." At the same time, five out of six (79%) reported: "I am flexible and adaptable and make the most out of life regardless of the obstacles that come my way."

The recognition of human limitation and the placing of ultimate outcomes in God's hands would tend to indicate a turn back towards traditional mainstream religion. But even here, change is in the air. In the Vibrant Nation survey, only 8% credited "the religious community I grew up in" as the biggest source of inspiration during challenging times. Less than a quarter credit their current religious community as the biggest source of inspiration. A whopping 44% credit "beliefs and philosophies I learned from books, speakers, coaches, workshops or other sources outside of organized religion."

The shift from The Secret to Ehrenreich is an indication that at least for a growing group of educated Boomer women, the American dream is in transition mode. But in keeping with our generation of womens' tradition of scrappy adaptation and resourcefulness, there is cause to celebrate that whether our optimism is eroded or our positive thinking continues intact, our resilience continues to expand.