- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wear out your shoes, and hail the humble meal and modest celebration. The new frugality, thrifty chic, recessionist culture — it’s a global thing. And it’s good for us.

The Pope says so.

“Perhaps the world crisis that is affecting so many families and all of humanity could be the stimulus for rediscovering the warmth, simplicity, amity and solidarity which are the very values of Christmas,” Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday during his weekly audience with visitors and clergy.

“Stripped of its materialistic and consumer trappings, Christmas offers a chance to welcome as a personal gift the message of hope that emanates from the mystery of Christ’s birth,” he added. “Even a nonbeliever can perceive something special, transcendent and intimate that speaks to the heart.”

Wal-Mart agrees, judging by its new motto, “Save money. Live better.” And at least one therapist vouches for thrift as the new global virtue.

“Forced frugality will give folks the chance to really examine their priorities and reconsider the role and meaning of gifts and holiday expenses. With less comes more appreciation and gratitude for what you have and what you´re given,” said Kit Yarrow, a psychologist with Golden Gate University.

It’s hard not to live large, though — and the transition from prosperity to possible penury is rife with stress. Still, such circumstances prompt us to get kinder and more protective with one another, which is psychologically healthier, Miss Yarrow said.

“People are resilient, more than they think,” she added.

Indeed, a Zogby poll of 1,039 adults released Wednesday found that while 71 percent of Americans plan to cut back on their holiday spending this year, 72 percent also are convinced that the economy will recover and 91 percent remain proud of their country.

“People appear to believe the economy has hit bottom and will climb in 2009. Optimism is a good thing for the economy, but it presents a political challenge for President-elect Obama,” said pollster John Zogby.

Mr. Obama also will have to contend with his thrifty competition overseas. Is Germany, Japan or China the most frugal? And who’s the biggest spendthrift on the planet? Already, disagreements over such things have erupted in the Financial Times, Time and other publications.

Things are still tough out there, meanwhile.

“I’d be hard-pressed to call anything about a recession ‘positive.’ It’s clearly causing great upheaval and pain across the board, and I suspect its repercussions will be felt across a broad range of our society, and indeed the rest of the world,” said Faith Popcorn, a Manhattan-based trend analyst.

“It’s why we’re convinced it’s not a ‘cyclical’ adjustment, but rather, ‘the end of the world as we know it.’”

Women will be less like Martha Stewart and more like Betty Crocker, she said — the “good enough Beta Mom” rather than Alpha super mom. If you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it. He who has the most toys no longer wins. And, according to Miss Popcorn‘s latest research, 90 percent of us are interested in simplifying our lives.

“If there is a ‘positive’ to be found in what we believe will be the major, fundamental adjustments to the way we live our lives, it will be in the area of a basic reassessment of values,” Miss Popcorn said.

Consumption for consumption’s sake is dead. Humanity is evolving from conspicuous to “conscious consumption,” with the traditional concept of consumer becoming an “anachronism,” Miss Popcorn said.

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