The New Normal1

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The Great Recession has caused many Americans to reevaluate their consumption-rich way of life. In response to the shrinking economy, they have spent less, saved more, and simplified their lives. This essay asks whether people will seek a return to their prerecession lifestyles—in particular a return to making the acquisition and consumption of consumer goods a major source of meaning and contentment—as soon as their economic condition allows or whether they will make their more austere lives their “new normal.” It evaluates existing research on contentment and suggests that if instead of choosing to return to their “old normal,” Americans learn to derive satisfaction from nonconsumerist sources, in particular social relations and transcendental activities (i.e., religious, contemplative, and cultural activities), they may find the new normal quite acceptable.

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