Is the recession making us better people?

In the past few months, as the economic downturn has left millions out of work and millions more struggling to make ends meet, many have directed their spare time and unused talents toward helping those who are less fortunate. While pundits and analysts attempt to explain the spike in volunteerism, it's worth asking if the recession is making us better people.

The idea that privation and suffering are good for the soul underlies numerous religions, and several actually have holidays and activities that are built around withdrawal from pleasure and the mortification of the flesh. While this doesn't necessarily translate into a post-recession wardrobe of sackcloth and ashes, many consumers seem strangely willing, if not eager, to get back to a more modest and values-based way of living.