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Inside the newsroom: Trying to gain control over despair and misery

The term misery loves company first appeared, in one form or another, before the time of Christ. The basic premise is if I’m miserable I’ll feel better if you’re miserable too. But here’s why that’s not true.

Destruction from Hurricane Dorian at Marsh Harbour in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. Al Diaz, Miami Herald

SALT LAKE CITY — The headlines out of the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian are heartbreaking: At least 43 people are dead, with the death toll expected to rise. The United Nations Saturday was reporting 70,000 people homeless on Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands.

There is misery.

First things first: If you want to help you can send a donation of money or essential items to the American Red Cross, Save the Children, SBP (St. Bernard Project) or Mercy Corps. You can designate one of these agencies and donate through AmazonSmile. The internet makes donations easy and five minutes of research about these agencies will allow you to make a wise donation decision.

Misery can visit us naturally, by hurricane, tornado, fire and earthquake. If we build in a hurricane zone, we risk devastation. If we build on a fault line, we should literally brace ourselves. But if you’re an island nation in a hurricane zone, where do you go? Mitigating catastrophic results and helping those suffering to quickly recover continues to be a moral help-your-neighbor responsibility of all of us.

Misery also arrives from other sources. Deseret News reporter Matthew Brown wrote last week about “Deaths of Despair,” a report by the joint Economic Committee that found deaths by suicide, alcohol and drug abuse have trended upward since the mid-1950s. And the well-documented opioid epidemic has sent deaths skyward during the past decade.

Families have been decimated by drugs and alcohol, and the same obligation we feel to help those suffering from hurricanes certainly exists when trying to lift our own families and friends from the despair of addiction.

In our newsroom we are also paying attention to the nation’s Misery Index. This index was established by economists and offers a measurement about how the average citizen is doing economically. Are times good or are times, well, miserable? The formula is simple (too simple some economists say) and is made by adding the annual inflation rate to the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate.

The current Misery Index, as of August, is 5.51, a number consistently low throughout this past year, and lower than any month in 2018, 2017 and 2016. The economy is good. But the thing about misery is it can hit randomly. Natural disasters like fires and tornadoes can leave one home unscathed and a neighboring home completely destroyed. A good economy can lift a family, but it can also leave others behind.

Inside the newsroom we asked Deseret News reporter Lois Collins to report on the possibility of a coming recession and noted the following:

“When the August 2019 National Association for Business Economics policy survey asked whether member economists expect recession by the end of 2021, the vast majority said yes. They divided nearly evenly, however, on whether it will happen in 2020 or 2021. Only 2 percent expect recession to start by year’s end.”

That caused us to write an editorial board opinion in August noting that the best way to deal with the threat of a change in the economy is to prepare individually.

We said: “The principle here is that of prudence over complacency. Times of plenty are when governments and households should store up for the future — building emergency funds, paying off liabilities and creating smart budgets. The irony of good economic growth is it encourages consumers to spend more and save less — the opposite of sound financial behavior.“

At the NAACP conference in Detroit in July, the good economy was noted, but so was a warning that it’s not good for everyone. As one leader put it, a rising tide might raise all boats. But it only makes things worse if you have a hole in your boat.

Identifying hurricane victims or those suffering economically who have a hole in their boats — a hole in their lives — is among the many pursuits of the Deseret News. It’s why we’ve written extensively about suicide, about opioid abuse and the misery of anxiety and depression. It’s why we go deep on homelessness and track the progress of the Salt Lake area’s new homeless resource centers.

It’s why we seek solutions to these societal problems, shining a light not just on the problem, but going wherever we need to to report on things that are working.

We also turn to spiritual sources. President Russell M. Nelson, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, turned to scripture to note the source of true joy and happiness. In an address to the faithful in Orlando earlier this summer he asked and answered: Where can happiness be found?

“It is wherever the Spirit of the Lord dwells in the hearts of the people (1 Peter 4:14). It is inside any home that has become a sanctuary of faith and is filled with love. It is inside every House of the Lord,” President Nelson, said, as reported in the Church News. “It can be wherever you are when the Spirit of the Lord is with you.”

He has taken that message around the world as he’s traveled 90,000 miles, visited 28 countries, and met with 100 world and religious leaders since becoming president in January 2018.

The term misery loves company first appeared, in one form or another, before the time of Christ. The basic premise is if I’m miserable I’ll feel better if you’re miserable, too. The truth is, we will all be visited by misery. But we’ll feel better if we lend a helping hand to those who are suffering, even if we, too, are suffering.

It’s not shared misery. It’s shared light. And that’s what can save us from natural disaster, recession, and everything in between.