1) Read Studs Terkel's Hard Times. If you want to be reminded of what hard times were really like in America, read this classic chronicle of the Depression and also tip your fedora to Terkel, one of the nation's great storytellers, who passed away recently at the age of 96. He based his 1970 work on oral histories of people from all walks of life who lived through the 1930s. What stands out is the stark choices that people were forced to make to survive, and also the warmth and kindnesses of men and women who literally had only the clothes on their backs. We have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot of work ahead of us to keep it. In a 1986 updated preface to the book, Terkel concludes with this advice: "Ours, the richest country in the world, may be the poorest in memory. Perhaps the remembrances of survivors of a time past may serve as a reminder to others. Or to themselves."
2) Help someone else. Thanksgiving and the holiday season are here, and countless food pantries are struggling to meet record demand as they confront cold weather and the toughest part of their year. Charities are also seeing reduced contributions and soaring demands. If you have time or money, give them.
3) Give early to your family. Yes, the stock market has tanked and you worry that many of your investments may not recover in your lifetime. But they will recover in time to be of value to your heirs. So, think of giving some of your depressed holdings this year to kids and grandkids. Odds are you eventually will give them money as part of your estate. Do it early and the gains from the inevitable market rebound likely will be taxed at lower levels, especially with gifts to minors. You and your spouse can each give up to $12,000 a year tax-free to each person. And if life has been truly good to you, and you are concerned about possible estate taxes, giving away depressed securities now may be a solid strategy to mitigate future estate taxes. Check with your financial adviser on trust plans and related ways to achieve these goals.
4) Give to yourself. Giving begins at home, so go ahead, do something nice for yourself, too. Stores are falling all over themselves with bargains, and customer service is very popular this season. Think about taking your shopping genes out for a good time.
5) Dance to the music. Do you have a favorite song that comes to mind these days? Hopefully, it's a bit more cheerful than the Depression's standard, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?":
They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?
Phil Gramm got hammered last summer when he referred to America as being a nation of whiners. Such a politically incorrect step forced him to resign as an adviser to John McCain, but there was more than a grain of truth to what he said, which is why my song for the times is the Eagles' 1994 classic, "Get Over It."Here's the opening section and refrain:
I turn on the tube and what do I see? A whole lotta people cryin' "Don't blame me." They point their crooked little fingers at everybody else, Spend all their time feelin' sorry for themselves. Victim of this, victim of that; Your momma's too thin; your daddy's too fat. Get over it. Get over it. All this whinin' and cryin' and pitchin' a fit. Get over it, get over it.
What's your song?