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by SixFigureStart | April 09, 2009

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Spring’s here, so even in the face of endless layoffs, the mortgage meltdown, and the tax collector’s knock, I’m convinced there’s something worth celebrating. Maybe it’s because mom always said, “When you’re upset put on a smile, think of something you’re grateful for, and soon your expression will be genuine.” An annoying exercise in fakery, perhaps, but it often works.

So, with an acknowledgment to mom, let’s review some of the downturn-induced changes that have smile-inducing side effects:

The Tour de France-Style Commute
People have less money to spend on gas/parking/tolls/trains. In New York the MTA is threatening another fare hike. But bike commuting is booming—up 35 percent over 2007, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.

Pluses: It’s scenic, it’s free and since it’s a commute-workout combo you can save even more money by ditching your gym membership. (If you’re jobless, substitute “commute” for “errand running.”)

Girls’ (or Boys’) Night In
Thirteen-dollar martinis are getting harder to rationalize, but people still need bonding time. Taking a page from childhood, many women are hosting old-school PJ parties. Bring on the Two Buck Chuck, pizza and McDreamy. (Boys’ version: poker night.)

Pluses: Flashback to being 11 years old, hanging out without getting hit on by sleazy hedge funders.

The Cooking Craze
Home cooking’s all the rage as people pare their spending. Suze Orman, the no-nonsense finance guru, recently challenged her viewers to swear off restaurants for a month. This is all bad news for the restaurant industry—according to one research firm, 2009 is on track to have the sharpest drop in dining out since 1972—but it offers a silver lining.

Pluses: Jennifer Tang, a New Yorker who has cut back on eating out, says it “translates into less weight gain and less need for the gym for weight control.” (See Commuting.) Also, many of us will finally have to learn how to cook—that, or we’ll be consuming ramen for the remainder of the recession.

Haggling, Bargaining, Negotiating
In this climate almost everyone—from service providers to real estate agents—is open to negotiation. Not ideal if you’re the one trying to sell something, but selling for less beats not selling at all, and at least you can make up for your wallet’s weakness when you’re on the buying side.

Pluses: Pricey pads in Manhattan are getting more affordable. According to a recent New York Times article, savvy renters are now upgrading their spaces while lowering their rent.

Old-Fashioned Sweetness
Refined sugar, once the enemy, is back in vogue. Candy stores and sweets manufacturers across the nation are seeing a jump in sales of nostalgic candies like Necco Wafers and Mary Janes.

Pluses: Though it may cause cavities and widen waistlines, at least there’s comfort in confections.

Socializing
Some people who’ve been laid off report an uptick in their social lives. “I can do karaoke until 3 a.m. on a Sunday,” says one Brooklynite who lost her teaching job.

Pluses: Fun is good. Also, an active personal life can potentially lead to a more robust network of professional contacts, depending on who’s karaoke-ing beside you.

Sexual Healing
Cash-strapped Americans may not be splurging on expensive dinners, but judging by condom sales (up five percent in the fourth quarter of 2008) they’re indulging in free bedroom-based entertainment. Sting and Trudi aren’t the only ones practicing tantra anymore. The OneTaste Center in San Fran and N.Y.C., which touts the benefits of orgasmic meditation (OMing) is getting a lot of attention lately. At $300 per multi-day workshop, though, OMing’s an investment.

Pluses: Sex, a proven mood booster, can ease frayed nerves and strengthen relationships.

Creativity
Many people who’ve been laid off are channeling their newfound time wisely by undertaking a creative project or launching a business. Exhibit A: Recessionwire.

Pluses: In addition to the individual good an entrepreneurial/creative venture can yield, if we have enough small engines chugging along, we may steamroll the recession.

Cross-Generation Connection
My 94-year-old grandma and I don’t always have a lot to talk about, but the other day I was riveted when she recounted her experience living through the Depression—her father’s one day a week job in the coal mine, the vegetable garden they grew in their yard—and how it compares to the way people are bartering, sacrificing and surviving today.

Pluses: Finding common ground with someone two generations removed from you is a blessing.

Have you seen a bright side to the meltdown? Let us know in the comments section.

--Posted by Victoria Grantham, RecessionWire.com

Victoria Grantham is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Post, The New York Daily News and Downtown Express. She lives in Manhattan.

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