Using Joy to Beat Back the Economic Boogeyman

08/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's been a rough year for many of us -- job loss, a salary freeze or a reduced income -- and it can make enjoying even the simplest of pleasures difficult. Before the economy tanked, I never worried about going out to celebrate a friend's birthday. But last week, the thought of paying for drinks, dinner and a birthday dessert was stressing me out. Instead, my partner and I took what could have been a downer of a birthday and, using creativity and spontaneity, turned it into an evening that was absolutely magical and full of joy.

The secret? Blackberry cobbler and a flower! I'll get to that in a moment. My partner and I have three good friends, and the five of us frequently go out to dinner, vacation together and even plan special Christmas celebrations. Not only do we laugh and have fun, but we also have thoughtful discussions about the ups and downs of life. Over the last year, however, the economy has hit us all hard. Two friends lost their jobs and another has watched his sales income plummet. Another took a different job but ended up quitting altogether because it was such a bad fit (fortunately, he was smart in his savings). I've had my own financial storms to weather.

So we met at a restaurant for one friend's birthday. My partner and I decided on drinks only, and then we would call it a night. But as I'm sitting there feeling sorry for myself, I get an idea. Turns out I had baked a fresh blackberry cobbler the night before, and we hadn't eaten any yet. So I invite everyone to our house to have cobbler as the birthday girl's dessert. Everyone agreed, and suddenly, things were looking up.

But that isn't the best part. My partner and I met the others at our home, and as sometimes happens on birthdays, they had enjoyed a bit too much wine and the conversation was turning political and uncomfortable. So my partner suggests we take in the special show that occurs every summer's night in our garden. If you've never watched an evening primrose bloom right before your eyes at dusk, you are missing out! The five of us stood in the garden, with fireflies flitting back and forth, and watched with delight as the bright yellow blooms unfurled one by one.

None of our friends had ever witnessed this spectacle of nature before! They let out "oooohs!" and "aaaahs!," as they pointed and tried to guess which bud would pop open next. Debates over politics and the economy ceased, and the prickly edges of ego were smoothed down. A slice of blackberry cobbler and a simple yellow flower had loosened the grip this complicated world held on our souls. We were just friends again, finding joy in being together and sharing.

The cobbler and the flower didn't change our situations, but they made coping a bit easier. The birthday girl thanked me profusely for making her day special. I just shrugged it off and told her I was glad we were all together to enjoy it.