It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that we're in a recession, despite the so-called experts' happy talk. The economy's offering plenty of things to fret about, from the housing market's spectacular bust and ensuing credit crunch to the possibility that increasing inflation (stagflation, even) and unemployment will further pinch consumers.

As utterly terrifying as bear markets can be to the average investor, the truth is, they're inevitable. And many of the world's smartest investors will tell you that bear markets are the best time to invest in stocks.

Here's something to think about: The Leuthold Group, a Minneapolis-based money manager, did the research and concluded that we're in the jaws of a bear market 34% of the time. The rest of the time -- 66%! -- we're in a bull market. There's no such thing as a permanent bull market, but they do last longer than bear markets!

It stands to reason that those long, comfortable bull markets can get us into the mind-set that the good times will never end. Then we panic when things look bad, forgetting that they'll eventually recover. So let's all get a grip.

Run for cover in 2008?
In this volatile climate, stocks across the board have been knocked down by ills both real and imagined. The macroeconomic environment is undeniably scary, but while many companies have reported slowdowns owing to slower, less-confident consumers, the market's dramatic drubbings have helped push many stocks to prices far below the point of any logic.

The following are good examples of companies whose stock prices have dropped precipitously, whether they deserved it or not:

Company

6-Month Price Decrease

P/E (TTM)

PEG Ratio

Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFMI)

(31.8%)

24

1.25

Lehman Brothers (NYSE:LEH)

(44.5%)

5

0.84

Under Armour (NYSE:UA)

(29.2%)

38

1.25

Zumiez (NASDAQ:ZUMZ)

(32.1%)

23

1.02

Hansen Natural (NASDAQ:HANS)

(28.7%)

20

0.70

Data as of June 2, 2008, from Yahoo! Finance and MSN Money.

Now, I'm not necessarily banging the table on those specific stocks; I like some better than others, especially Whole Foods Market, which I suspect has been overly beaten up lately. (It's also a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.)

Of course, they could all suffer in the near term from a consumer-led recession, and I can't be shy about my bearishness on the financial companies like Lehman Brothers. But these are good examples of historically high-growth, "pricey" stocks. And right now, they look like bargains for investors who have long-term horizons, and who believe that these companies have a sustainable competitive advantage.

Super-saver special SALE!
Everybody knows to buy low and sell high, but that's easier said than done. We've all fallen victim to thinking we were "wrong" about one of our stocks because of a double-digit decline, even when the strong fundamentals hadn't changed. Bull markets tend to make us feel like investing geniuses; bear markets can make us feel like we can do nothing right.

But remember: When the market's taking a licking, everything sounds all doom and gloom. Few headlines mention that, because of the gloomy market, many excellent stocks are on sale. It's your opportunity to go against the conventional wisdom and embrace the bear market.

Don't sweat the short term
When the short term is looking a little overcast, it's a great time to concentrate on (1) the long term and (2) owning great businesses.

As tough as things may seem right now, the prevailing pessimism means that opportunity abounds. If you hold your ground and buy quality stocks with solid long-term growth stories at sale prices, the future for your portfolio is very bright indeed.

If you're feeling uncertain, or if your list of great companies seems a bit thin, you could always check out Stock Advisor. The service debuted in April 2002, just as the 2001 recession was straightening itself out. Stocks we recommended then have borne serious fruit: Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) has increased 424% since we recommended it in October 2002.

Although not all of our selections -- from 2002 or later -- show triple-digit increases, our average recommendation has outpaced the S&P 500 by nearly 44 percentage points since inception. If you'd like to do your due diligence, try the service free for 30 days.

This article was first published March 19, 2008. It has been updated.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market and Amazon.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Under Armour is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Zumiez has been recommended by Motley Fool Hidden Gems. The Motley Fool owns shares of Under Armour. The Fool has a disclosure policy.