While listening to a family friend’s retirement speech several years ago, I was struck by his statement that, to him, happiness was part of his journey and not a destination. This may seem strange coming from someone whose daily life revolves around improving mental health, but I am in awe of people who actually are just happy. Happy. What does that even mean?
While it may seem obvious that happiness is something that “should” be part of our lives every day and not something we are searching for with a flashlight and compass, so many of us are still seeking this elusive treasure! The US population uses anti-depressants at an astronomical rate and self-help books fly off the shelves. When looking at “studies” on the happiest countries, the US never makes it to the top ten. We aren’t in the bottom either, but it makes sense that war-torn countries aren’t making it out of the bottom ten. We have relative stability here, opportunity, faith, etc, but we still aren’t satisfied.
Latin American countries were prevalent in the top ten. Norweigan countries dominate as well. So, what are we doing wrong here? I know many factors contribute, but I can’t help but to think that our “keep up with the joneses” mentality leaves us in a state of never quite being enough or having enough. Always needing and wanting the next great thing is an exhausting, unwinnable race.
Our nation’s commitment to the grind and having “stuff” have to play into our lack of satisfaction with life. We don’t have enough time in our days to stop and enjoy, well, anything. Having a 3-year-old, a 6-month-old, a full-time job and a husband who works opposite hours at times, leaves me little time for myself and for my family. I wake in the morning and rush the kids into their clothes, put food in their bellies, and get out the door. When I get home from work, I am getting dinner ready, washing bottles, and getting ready for the next day. All of this for what? So I can do it again day in and day out for….the rest of my life? This isn’t what I want for myself and it is certainly not what I want for my children.
I ask myself how I get out of this grind, but I feel stuck. As I imagine the majority of people in this country feel — stuck. The bills have to be paid and food has to be put on the table. I got myself even more stuck this past weekend by buying myself a nicer car. I told myself I deserved it because, if I am going to be stuck, then I might as well be stuck driving a car with heated seats. But, perhaps, I am just perpetuating the problem. More debt=more work=more grind=less time with family=less happiness. I often ask myself if I would be satisfied with a smaller house with, say, one bathroom. And maybe just one car – or, call me crazy, what about no cars? Could you live without internet, your cell phone, the Keurig?
I want to say yes, yes, yes, yes. But, somehow, happiness has become equated with stuff. And I am envious of the mcmansions that surround me. The need for bigger and better is so ingrained in me that I think that bigger and better is happiness no matter how much I KNOW logically this is not true. I have no answers, but I know something has to change for me and for our unhappy country. I have to find some little ways to help me feel less stuck and more in control.
As I stare down this new year, I write this really to help me be more aware of what I really want and what I really need – not what society makes me think I want and need. I want simple. I want happiness as part of my journey. I don’t think this can happen, though, without being conscious of when I make choices that are merely a band-aid (new car) and when I make choices that help me be present in the moment (ie my Christmas day electronics ban). I hope we can all find peace in the New Year and can focus on the “real” things in our lives that make us happy – not the “stuff.” This practice is the true gift to ourselves and to our children and, maybe, just maybe, we will all quit this insane race that no one can win.