The other day, I ran across some comments from respected economist Tyler Cowen. He talked a bit about the Mindapples project, which asks people to list five things they do to stay sane. Given our volatile stock market and how many fortunes have withered lately, we might find ourselves struggling to keep our sanity. 

Some of the ways Cowen stays sane include the following: "I try to listen to beautiful music at least once a day, I don't check my portfolio even in the best of times, [and] I hug a loved one at least one more time than was expected."

Did you catch that one particularly surprising tidbit? He's known for his insights into finances, and yet he avoids checking his portfolio -- even when the market is soaring. Why? Well, I asked, and he responded: "The human talent ('human capital') of the United States remains strong, and so do our long-run prospects. Checking one's portfolio puts you in an emotional state of mind and that probably leads to lower quality decisions, overall." I can't argue with that. Emotions do often get in the way of our investing.

More sanity
Some readers shared their own strategies for staying sane. One said, "I dress up as a cat and eat panini sandwiches." I tried that, but it didn't seem too helpful. The ones I did like had to do with remembering how much worse off so many people are and giving thanks for what you do have -- as well as acting on those sentiments by volunteering to help others in need.

These suggestions reinforce some research into what makes people happy. Very often, happiness is relative -- if we feel better off than others, it accentuates our happiness. And let's face it -- if you're reading this article on a computer somewhere, odds are, you're much better off than billions of people on this planet. And volunteering can be a powerful mood lifter, helping us put our problems in perspective. I've read a few things about how therapists treat troubled patients, and volunteering is often suggested, along with exercise. Maybe my having taken up kayaking will help me.

Dow 6,000?
Someone else not only saw further market declines as possible, but actually positive. This may seem strange, that anyone would root for the stock market to fall, but if you're planning to make a lot of stock purchases over time, you'd prefer to buy them at lower prices, so you can buy more.

Warren Buffett has said as much. In his 1997 letter to shareholders, he explained how those who planned to buy stocks for years or even decades to come should like lower prices, because it means they can pick up more shares for their money.

In addition, with dividends, a falling stock price means higher dividend yields (assuming the dividend isn't reduced). Check out how steep some dividend yields have recently become:


Recent dividend yield

Home Depot (NYSE:HD)


DuPont (NYSE:DD)


Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG)


Mattel (NYSE:MAT)


Alcoa (NYSE:AA)


SunTrust Banks (NYSE:STI)


Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI)


Data from

In these tough times it makes sense to seek out reliable and sizable dividend payers (it always makes sense, come to think of it). For recommendations of such companies, you might want to take a free look at our Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter, featuring many companies with dividend yields above 6%.

Turn it all around
Here's one last recommendation: Take an opposite perspective! Instead of seeing the glass as half empty, think of it as half full. If gas is expensive, take the opportunity to finally develop that bike-riding habit you've always wanted to have.

I know, you're probably muttering to yourself that your portfolio is suddenly half empty. True, true. But as long as you're still working and saving and investing, you're actually looking at a lot of bargains in the stock market right now. You have a chance to fill up the empty half of your portfolio with some solid performers. In time, not only will your fallen stocks have likely risen again, but so will many of the new buys that you snapped up at depressed prices.

I'm not alone in thinking this. Fool contributor Bud Morten recently opined that now may be the time to really buy, Rich Greifner explained that this is the opportunity we've all been waiting for, and Anand Chokkavelu urged readers to "Buy It Like Buffett." Even Warren Buffett himself recently penned a New York Times op-ed piece urging Americans to think about buying stocks right now (as he is).

So there you have it -- the best way to stay sane is to take action, whether that be giving someone a hug, volunteering, exercising, or buying stocks.