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Can optimism cure the economy?

October 12, 2011 |  7:13 am

Parks and Rec

Amused as I am by Nick Offerman's character on "Parks and Recreation" -- Ron Swanson, a libertarian reluctantly working as a public official in a small Indiana town -- I personally am much more of a Leslie Knope, Ron's optimistic colleague played by Amy Poehler. While Ron bides his time discussing the corrupt nature of big government -- ref: his "Pyramid of Greatness" and his explanation to a fourth-grader on how taxes work in which he eats most of her sandwich -- and preparing for the imminent collapse of society, Leslie looks for glimmers of hope and opportunity around every corner.

Maybe it's because I was brainwashed as a child watching videos of "Where there’s a will there's an A," but I think we have more power and influence than we often give ourselves credit for. As I've pointed out on this blog before, happiness is good for the economy

Tuesday's LearnVest about the "the economics of optimism" further supports that theory. "[T]he happier you are, the quicker the area you call home is likely to recover," writes Gabrielle Karol about how mood affects the economy. She explains:

A recent study by the University of Miami School of Business Administration has shown that in in states where people are more optimistic, an economic recession is weaker, expansion is stronger and recovery faster.

Alok Kumar, one of the study's researchers and a finance professor at the University of Miami School of Business, measured optimism levels across different U.S. states by looking at three key factors: weather, sports optimism and political optimism. In other words,  warm, sunny weather encourages the release of serotonin in the brain, which makes people alert and cheerful. Additionally, we're happier when the political party we like is in power and our sports teams are performing well.

After creating an index to measure economic well-being in those same places, the researchers crunched the numbers to reveal the correlation between mood and economic activity. Overall, they found that happier places had higher retail sales, which improves the economic climate and helps lessen the effects of a recession. The results of the study showed that other non-economic factors -- like warm weather and good sports teams, which improve happiness and optimism -- also helped improve local economy, meaning that your mood (and the mood of your town's fellow residents) can directly impact your area's economic outlook.

San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are on the list of happiest cities in the country, but L.A. didn't make the cut -- and surely the threat of a canceled NBA season won't help matters. Perhaps without the Lakers to cheer for, we should spend the free time rooting for ourselves.

"The more you look on the bright side," Karol writes, "the brighter your city's future could be."

Sounds like a win-win.


Poverty and the pursuit of happiness

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Let's talk Depression, even if the politicians won't

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson in "Parks and Recreation."Credit: Chris Haston / NBC

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