First, find your purpose in life. Most Americans define themselves by what they have or what they do. That is dangerous territory to inhabit. Your life is not defined by what you own, possess, or have. Nor is your life best defined by what you do for a living, whether lawyer, athlete, or auto mechanic.
A part of you craves meaning and purpose. Listen to that voice within your soul. Tune out the voices around you that insist you buy more, consume more, borrow more, and own more. The more you possess, the more you will worry about it. The more time you will invest in caring for your stuff, and the more energy you will spend in insuring it and maintaining it. Your life consists of far more than the possessions you pile up. Simplicity is your friend not your enemy.
Instead of finding stuff, find your purpose. The reason for your existence. Whether to serve others, to care for children, to alleviate suffering, or to generate wealthy in order to be a generous person, your life has some unique purpose that only you can fulfill. We clearly hunger to know that. Why else would Rick Warren's simple book, The Purpose-Driven Life, have sold more than 30MM copies?
By finding your purpose and beginning to live it out, you will gently steer your life away from material measures and into meaningful measures. You will ground your life in something that matters and lasts. Something that ultimately has meaning, and something that is deeper and richer than any economy, good or bad, can affect.
Second, invest in people rather than information. Relationships and community form the backbone of your life. Any study will tell you that having a network of friends improves the quality of your life and likely extends the length of your existence. Surround yourself with healthy friends and invest yourself in the community around you.
Your greatest enemy in a challenging time is the barrage of information that hits you at every turn. News outlets incessantly flood your senses. Pessimism is contagious and lethal. Turn off the news, put down the paper, end the continuous updates on your Blackberry. Replace the constant flow of bad news and despair with real-life interaction with other human beings. In particular, invest yourself in the people you care most about. By substituting relationships for information you will deepen the roots of your own life and increase your own satisfaction with existence. Your life will develop meaning and real hope instead of being based on the vicissitudes of the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the latest release from the Department of Homeland Security. That meaning and hope will stabilize you when tough times come.
Finally, when you need help, get it. Even a life with purpose, and a life rooted in a sense of belonging, family and community, will encounter occasional down moments and life challenges. Spouses will die, plans will fail, and other humans will hurt you. At those moments, draw on the resources around you. There simply are too many people nearby for you not to take advantage of the help they desire to provide. Gifted counselors, caring friends, mental health professionals, hopeful pastors. In every community, at least some of these persons are available to you. More importantly, they WANT to help you. Let them.
Bankruptcies of hope can be prevented. A recession simply reminds you to dig the well before you get thirsty.