Ten years ago, during a period of stressful, worry-filled, and embittering unemployment, I wrote an essay about the experience, titled The Surprising Benefits of Being Unemployed. It was an attempt to talk about unemployment in a tongue-in-cheek way, and it served as therapy for me.
I put the essay on my Web site, although I worried that other unemployed people would see it there and would find it upsetting. After all, there’s nothing humorous about losing your source of income and not knowing when or even if you’ll secure another. Reading an essay that seems to be making light of that situation could result in anger and could deepen the depression that inevitably accompanies being unemployed.
Fortunately, it had the opposite effect: It cheered people up. Over the years, I’ve received a steady stream of e-mails from unemployed people thanking me for writing the essay and saying that it helped them cope with being unemployed. Some of the e-mail correspondences went on for years.
For me, following the writing of the essay, there were more alternating periods of employment and unemployment. I had more thoughts on the subjects of unemployment and job hunting, and I expanded the essay into a short book with the same title. People buy copies of the book from time to time, although the number of hits on the essay is far greater than the sales numbers for the book. When you’re unemployed, free is obviously better.
Out of curiosity, I started tracking the number of hits on the essay and found that it was a fairly reliable leading indicator of the economy, so I created the tongue-in-cheek SBOBU Economic Index. I haven’t updated the data in a while, however.
Today, I got another e-mail thanking me for writing the essay. The writer said she had just accepted a job offer after being unemployed for seven months. I realized that I’ve been getting very few of those e-mails lately. This is evidence either that the economy has improved or that the essay’s supply of comforting humor has been used up. I hope it’s the former.