As we prepare for the holidays, many families are worried about their financial situations. Perhaps we can take some reassurance from the elders in the Legacy Project who experienced real hardship in the Great Depression.

Among adults, the Great Depression caused the disruption of professional and personal life and led to immense stress and uncertainty. For the Legacy Project elders – who were children or teenagers at the time – a somewhat different picture emerges. With few better off to whom they could compare themselves, and without high expectations of material excess, they simply learned to have a good time with what they had. This can be a powerful first lesson for how to be happy in spite of difficult financial times.

For example, two elders told us:

I grew up during the Depression, but I didn’t know I was poor because we had our own garden, our own car, our own chickens- everything that we had, we produced. I learned also to try to be happy – you went dancing, you went to baseball games, and most of it didn’t cost much. (Evelyn, 91)

I would say that our generation came from a more impoverished society, so our expectations weren’t that great like you guys are. You people grew up with computers and everything else, but we didn’t. So we didn’t expect it. We have it now, but if I lost it tomorrow morning it wouldn’t bother me, I’ve lived most of my life without it. (Phillip, 87)

I also think of Jennifer, 85 years old, with such good health that she traveled last year to Germany, Canada, and Alaska. She is an active volunteer and participates in continuing education programs. When approached by us, she quipped: “’Advice about life’ for younger generations in your letter surely opens the gates for us oldies!”

Her life’s lessons clearly represent the “happy in spite of” mentality:

In spite of growing up and attending college in the Depression years, the “good life” for me began in earliest childhood when I was raised in a loving and encouraging family and enriched by many inspiring role models. Then, fortunately, our marriage was a happy and rewarding one that enabled us to meet ups and downs together. For both of us, gratitude and giving thanks to our parents and others along the way was simply a way of life. I am not sure the importance of a simple “Thank you” or caring gesture is stressed enough today. We likely became more conscious of this as our family grew, and greatly appreciate seeing this attribute in our grandchildren and their young children.

It may sound like old-fashioned advice, but a focus on “gratitude and giving thanks” may help all of us this holiday! And if you have wisdom to share about the holidays, please post it here!