What's Your Elixir for Recovery?

If perception shapes reality, what will make you feel better about your future?

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The Best Life primarily deals with facts and advice: specific, black-and-white information. Life, however, is mostly lived in countless shades of gray, and today is a gray day.

What many of us are doing on this day, as we've been doing for some time, is trying to figure out how bad things are going to get and what it means for us. While we may be encouraged by the energy of a new administration taking office in Washington, it doesn't stop us from groping to find new foundations on which to stand.

Those foundations may be called by different names: a floor for the stock market, a reliable set of asset values for troubled financial institutions, a level of business expenses matched to a sobering declines in sales, or a lower balancing point for household income and expenses. We're looking for a secure living standard, and we might readily accept a smaller income figure than last year so long as we had confidence we could count on it.

Sustainability is the new name of the game. Until people, companies, governments, and nations reach their new respective levels of sustainability, it will be very hard for things to get better. Do I know what those levels are or when they might occur? Nope. Remember, we're writing today in shades of gray.

I do know that sustainability and confidence are in the eyes of the beholder. So beyond increases in economic activity and employment, people must believe that things are getting better. Perception is both cause and effect of prosperity, and it's clear that we've lost our mojo. Hardly a secret, I admit, but where to look to get it back?

Perceptions can be very powerful drivers of behavior. They're also a lot cheaper to create than tossing billions at bridges and bailouts. If we want perception to lead the recovery then ways must be found for us to feel better about our futures in advance of solid evidence of an upturn. Here, iconic figures and events hold great potential sway.

As much as you respect your neighbor, watching him gleefully hop into his car and ride off to a great job each day is probably not going to change your attitudes or actions. However, you and millions more can be inspired when Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III skillfully guides a crippled U.S. Airways jet onto the Hudson River and walks the aisle--twice--to make sure his passengers and crew are safely off the plane. That's heroic stuff.

People are looking for symbolic acts on which to begin building better views of the future. They want leaders to do just that. They look for larger-than-life performances from sports and entertainment figures. They need to see that calm and wiser heads are working together to reduce fighting and tension in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and on and on.

It is pretty clear that President Obama fully understands the influence he can wield to alter perceptions. I expect him to use it. It is less clear that Congressional leaders get it; their bickering delays our recovery.

People are also looking for signs that there is justice in their world. If you're convinced life isn't fair, it's that much harder to get out of bed in the morning and do your bit to make things better.

So, my question to you is: What would change your perceptions for the better? With respectful allowances for the aging process, what would make you jump out of bed in the morning?