Study after recent study proclaims that we are unhappier now than we have been at any other time in history. I personally don’t think the findings are that surprising, I believe the more shocking element is that we think they are surprising.
Even Oprah has jumped on the latest women’s happiness survey and is currently highlighting that first of all women are less happy than they were forty years ago and secondly women get sadder as they get older. Of course these are generalisations and surveys will never take account of an individual’s approach, but usually they do highlight a trend and even Oprah is asking why? How can this be?
I don’t think it is all that difficult to see why we are less happy these days we’ve created a great deal of the delusion for ourselves. While Oprah suggests we should be more grateful for all that we have, plainly we’re not. We have more to tangibly look after and protect these days and certainly more emotional baggage and social pressure than any previous generation. We fret and allow stress to damage and, in some cases, kill us off completely.
When times were good we were striving, struggling and competing with one another to have the bigger house, the better car, the bigger television and the brighter and higher achieving offspring. Now that the financial tables have turned somewhat we are still striving and struggling. The difference is we are now attempting to hold onto what we have already accumulated and keep the status quo for our families, petrified that a downsizing of house, car or extracurricular activity will irrevocably scar the children for life. We also see it as personal failure when again, this is an illusion, it would just be the shedding of some stuff, but for now fear is a constant companion.
Anger enters the mix
The worse part of this is that we have added anger and resentment into the mix. People are angry at the government and government agencies. They are also angry at themselves for not seeing this coming; angry for getting into debt in the first place and not having a quick solution to the problem. Emotional stability is now totally dependent on the outside circumstances. Hundreds of authors have made millions on the simple truth that happiness is a state of being and not a destination. Even people who have never read a one of these self help books will have heard this wisdom and yet it is not applied, we just don’t seem to get it.
We are still constantly of the opinion that we will be happy when X, Y or Z happens. When the country was awash with money and things were booming we were putting off our happiness until we had the stuff and the kids were finished with education. These days we are putting off happiness until we are convinced we can hold onto the stuff, the kids get an education and the economy stabilises.
We have come to the conclusion that modern happiness revolves around having the right stuff on the outside; the right education, the right image and the right amount of money. Every advertisement for every product out there is based on the premise that the addition of this product or that service will improve your life. Either it will make you look better, feel better or give you more time; all are another way of saying ‘this will make you happier’.
Hair colour to washing powder
From the hair colour, to the washing powder to the car or even the frozen food that supposedly makes you look like Jamie bloody Oliver in five minutes and will have the entire family dancing around the table with delight when it is served up. The reality is very different. The hair colour is always trickier and messier to apply than it is on the commercial, the washing powder certainly smells nice but you still have to manually load and unload the washing machine. The car is great but it’s not turning heads like the television promised, it’s just another car. And while your family might eat an instant frozen dinner will they sing or dance? It’s all perception and expectation and we fall for it every time only to be bitterly disappointed in the accquisition.
And so we find ourselves with fridges that dispense water and have ice permanently at the ready. We have computer gadgetry and devices coming out our ears and all the time saving mod cons we could want and life still isn’t perfect.
I don’t consider myself a technical person or a gadget geek and yet I often feel like a little technology packhorse as I carry around computer memory sticks, a mobile phone, a small portable voice recorder, an mp3 player and a digital camera. It’s quite ridiculous the amount of stuff we carry around with us let alone keep in our own homes. We have bought it all in the hope that life will be made easier and, therefore by extension, happier. Some people even projected their happiness factor onto their children. How well your child was doing in school, in sport or at an artistic pursuit became, in some cases, an extension of the parent. You could practically see parents wearing little Johnny and Mary as badges of honour and achievers of excellence. Those that didn’t quite make grade were pushed a little harder and driven to another paid for extra curricular activity, all in the hope that they would find their niche and something to excel at. Of course you wanted them to enjoy what they were doing and give them all you never had, but it was also very satisfying when they could put on a splendid martial arts display or play a Winter from the Four Seasons on the piano when the family gathered for the christening of the latest prodigy. Ah yes, the perfect children to slot into the perfect home with the beautiful perfect couple.
We’ve been sold a pup
We bought all this and quite frankly we’ve been sold a pup. Happiness comes from within. It is only an illusion to think that you can’t be happy unless all the bills are paid and all the stress is gone. It never goes away completely; it just sort of shifts around the place
and everyone has something. There is an old Maltese proverb that basically says if you put ten people in a circle and ask them to trade their problems with each other, by the end of the exercise you would find that all ten would have taken their own problems back! Nobody has the perfect life, as I said, we all have something but being happy is a separate issue entirely and you can choose to be happy regardless of the circumstances. Happiness is a state, it was never a place.