"From a positive note," he said, "I think we got a slap on our chin and woke up. And that hurts, of course."
So what do people do to deal with the recession?
"We go back to basics as human beings. A recession is the same as being under stress," Lindstrom said. "We create a framework around ourselves to survive. And that's why we buy brands, which we believe reflect those rituals."
So that's why Rubik's Cubes and Legos are selling well, he said, while flashy new toys aren't. People aren't looking for the latest luxury goods, but old-time classics that have proven their reliability.
Another recession favorite: chocolate.
"At least I can treat myself to a five-minute break where I can escape from reality," Lindstrom said of the snack. "That is basically their replacement for the holiday trip to Paris or Switzerland."
Art Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co., said it makes sense that people are not buying cars. It's typically the second-largest purchase people ever make and banks have been making it harder to borrow money.
"In a tough economy, those decisions get pushed off," he said.
Americans' willingness to rediscover the library, stay in for a movie or cook at home is all "part of the nesting theme," Hogan said.
Shoppers, trying to get the most value for their dollar, are flocking to Wal-Mart, BJ's, Costco and Target.
"It means that everyone is feeling the brunt of the economy although 92 percent of us are still working and 96 percent that have mortgages are still paying them," Hogan said. "We certainly get to hear about how bad things are on a daily basis and it affects everybody's spending activities."