Happiness is like drugs. It can cure. It can create the power to move mountains. It can save the dying, crying, and desperate from the deep pits of this life. But without it, sorrow and pain can take its place, ripping our lives apart. I’m not sure anyone knows the limits of happiness. But we have all experienced enough of it in to undoubtedly respect what happiness can do.
The facts about happiness are everywhere. And we all know it’s the definition and personal connection to each of us. So, why don’t we use it more often? Why don’t we freeze it when we have excess and make more room for it in our lives?
Why is it so hard to wake up happy and stay that way for a scheduled time? Like 100 years sounds good.
It’s free; it’s everywhere. It’s every shape and size. So, why are we always looking for it?
I don’t know about you, but I’d never thought about seeking it until I went back to school. It was just there for the taking. Now I research for my clients, students, school projects, and readers. So, I’ve read, studied, thought about it, and repeated that process until I’m just tired of reading, studying, hearing, and thinking about it. Yet, it remains a topic I write about.
THE MOST COMMON SOLUTION TO FINDING HAPPINESS IS BECOMING MORE INVOLVED IN YOUR LIFE
According to the latest research, the most common solutions to happiness revolve around setting goals, maintaining friends, keeping active, pinning happy notes everywhere, and it’s still for most like looking for a needle in a haystack.
So, who really gets it?
Kids don’t care where you’re from, how much you make, or even what you look like until they grow up and learn they supposed to judge.
A quick view of the average life process is, we are born, we are happy in our tiny young world, then we grow up and each year we lose the innocence that allows us to run to the new neighbor with smiles seeking friendship. And as time travels forward we begin wanting more and more. At first, it’s to fit in, be cool, then it’s to attract the best mate, and always it’s been to acquire life’s trophies: awards, best grades, top accomplishments, and popularity. And you know the rest, you live it as I have. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is really, “Let’s have more than the Joneses.”
I truly believe one of the reasons we can’t find happiness is because we’ve decided we want to be the only one that has it. All the while, it’s truly a poor man’s dish available everywhere and affordable to all.
Ah, I hear what you’re thinking, “What? We want to be the only ones who have it?”
When you think about it, do you want the top grades, best career positions, highest pay, best house, nicest car, most amazing vacations, most handsome husband, most successful wife, best body, smartest kids, and everything else that others don’t have or rarely get?
If you strive to be the best and you tell yourself, “When I get more (than the average person has), I’ll be happier, ” but you already have what you need, and you’ve already been at this crossroads a few times. Remember high school? If I get top grades and get into the best college, I’ll get the best job and have the best career living in the big house with all the stuff.
But it never stops, by the time you’re in that career, you’re middle to late ’40s and still, happiness continues to depend on getting more. You’re top-notch, king, or queen of the hill. You’re better. So, you think.
There is nothing wrong with trying to be the best you can be. Striving to become the best doctor, lawyer, house cleaner, business owner, writer, lover, painter, artist, mom, Olympic winner, but we live in a society that never stops wanting.
I’m not suggesting giving up what you worked for, only evaluating your next move or decision in life. There’s a large number of articles on success-related stress out there and for good reasons. And I know from personal experience that once you have success the battle to maintain it can eat you alive. Wouldn’t it nice to smile at your achievements no matter their size and know that you are good enough, you are equal, and you deserve that kind of respect and happiness.
Happiness is not that thing that you have to work so hard to get, it’s free, it’s right there, and if you work too hard you miss it.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MATERIALISM
The Psychology of Materialism research shows that acquiring materialistic things doesn’t make us happier. “Materialism seems to develop as a method for coping with uncertainty and self-doubt, but is also a by-product of the natural tendency to compare one’s self with others.”
Happiness is established when our basic needs (baseline) are met: a roof over our head, clean water, food, clothing, and purpose. Basic needs mean we are free to sit at the happiness table. All the extras we collect are not responsible for our happiness.
In other words, you can live in a 3-million-dollar home and not be happier than the family in the 200-thousand-dollar place.
I know, I didn’t believe this when I was younger either. I was sure I wanted the fame and riches of the world. But now I see what matters: establishing the safety of basic needs and then deciding how to spend your smiles.
I experienced this living abroad. I’ve seen it in Europe, but I’ll speak of Israel. You will find some families live in 600- 1000 square foot flats with two-three children and one bathroom. They share everything. One very close friend of mine and her husband had three children in one bedroom, with one of the children being 11 years older. A fold-out bed had for 18 years been the oldest child’s mattress. She would fold it up in the day so that the little ones could play. There was no loss of happiness, but yes, there were dreams of a bigger house, and it wouldn’t have hurt, but it never came. Only when the oldest moved out at the young age of 22 did the house change. I’ve never seen a happier family, closer family, or a more normal family. They take vacations, eat in restaurants, have parties, live normal lives, buy fashionable clothing, and yet, in the US, I saw houses 4,000 square feet with 3 children, and they were no better off in the happy department. In fact, I saw more unhappiness in the more luxurious lives. Why? Our instinct is to survive, create safe environments for our families; anything over it can and is a burden that doesn’t always pay off.
And once you have these possessions, you then ration your love. Only those of equal positions are typically your close friends.
RESEARCH SHOWS MATERIALISTS HAVE LOWER SELF-ESTEEM AND ENGAGE IN RISK BEHAVIOR
So, what does science say about dreaming of materialistic grandeur? Research shows that focusing on materialistic things actually makes us worse off than we would be at baseline. Dittmar et al (2014) and Unanue et al (2016) show that “…materialistic people tend to show lower well-being in terms of vitality, positive affect, and life satisfaction, but more negative affect, depressive symptoms and anxiety, and more health problems. Materialists have lower self-esteem and engage in more risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking, and drug use.”
You will enjoy this. The Psychology of Materialism/ Advertising & Society Review gives an example that advertising is to blame for the spread of materialism in contemporary society. An example given is in and ads that seem to encourage the excessive pursuit of goods. Victoria’s Secret spot, the models coo, “Give me everything I want, and nothing I need.”
So, with all the theories on why we can’t find happiness, what are some answers?
From my experience and of course research by the experts, a few case studies, and some great quotes there are few answers.
For me, the realization of what mattered came from a young age when I was faced with hunger and a lack of funds to pay for the baseline needs. After struggling at one time in my life to put food on the table and not end up homeless, it was easy to feel the safety and comfort of success later in my life. But when I reached a point where abundance became the norm, and I was in no way slowing down the desire for more, I noticed it made little difference in my life.
I actually missed the times of cuddling up around the heater in my little flat in Tel-Aviv. My friends and neighbors would leave their doors open for me when they were gone in case I might want a slice of cake or to borrow something. I lived in a flat where the entrance to three apartments was closed off from the other tenants in the building. Therefore, it was easy to become friends, and eventually, we gave each other access to our flats in our absence. The experience of kindness, friendship, sharing, and trust was the most beautiful part of my life for many years. I had no car, and what I owned was very minimalistic, but when I would come home and find my neighbors had entered my home and taken a slice of cake or whatever I had cooked, I felt a satisfaction that I would trade for all the abundance that came later.
Why? Because happiness is exactly as we experienced as children. It’s simple. It’s belonging, being loved, giving to others, but none of this happens if we work so much that we don’t have time to give, or we are so successful that we don’t ever need.
Science is not quite as homey as my story, but it equals the same results as shown in the Psychology of Materialism research. And history, well it’s brutally awakening.
The historical event I quote below may sound extreme, but if you compare it to our modern lives, it’s easy to see how little has changed. If there is anyone you have thrown under the bus at work to get ahead, anyone you won’t associate with because they lack your status, anyone who is made fun of for appearing to be the lessor of the crowd, perhaps they don’t have fashionable clothing, or maybe they are just different. As far as corporate ladder climbing, I’ve seen careers ruined by the need of others to get ahead. As well as, how much of our world is falsified research that later harms our the public…. I can’t tell you how many people have plagiarized my writing over the last 15 years. I counted at one time, one article used 375 times under a name other than mine. That is a dog eat dog “do anything” to succeed action.
So, carefully think as you compare history to modern times and how we are still murdering our own happiness so that we can be the best, the top the most in order to ironically buy the thing we killed ourselves: happiness.
In January 1848, near present-day Sacramento, gold was discovered. Rumors spread like wildfire, and within weeks, tens of thousands of people were already in the area seeking their own nugget… “gold fever.”
The California cost suffered upheaval with abandoned ships covering the coast. It didn’t take much more than a year before businesses closed down, leaving towns nothing more than California’s famous ghost towns. San Francisco grew from a sparse 79 buildings to a city of tens of thousands, and within a few short years, more than 300,000 gold-seekers arrived in California.
The worst part was how this materialistic rage murdered 120,000 native Indians. The population fell from 150,000 to 30,000 survivors. The inconceivable act of greed affected the Native Americans of California to an irreversible loss. In order to mine gold, natives were driven off their hunting and gathering grounds. Water was polluted by gravel, silt, and toxic chemicals from the gold mines.
Indians who used force to protect what was theirs were massacred by the miners, hence the near genocide, and the rest were left to slowly starve to death or die from diseases brought in by the miners. If you were a young attractive woman, you were sold, and other lucky souls were kept as slaves.
You might say that’s extreme, but it’s a dog eat dog world in today. We seek happiness, peace, and love, but not before climbing the ladder and kicking down anyone beneath us.
Why do we do this? Because everyone else does? Because we want to survive? Because we don’t understand that we’d be just as happy to have less than to be cruel.
Find who you really are and what turns your buttons by making a list of what you want to do and start with tiny things like eating chocolate at midnight that lead into bigger things. Sometimes, it’s stupid fun things (chocolate) that open the doors to the big real things.
If you want to change, you have to get to know that person you left behind before you became the materialistic person you are today.
It takes work and effort. I start all my clients off with a calendar workbook that digs deep into their real desires. It shows you how to understand you better, set goals, and take time for yourself. Take time for the things that money can’t buy. Take time for those projects you don’t do because you’re busy adding more materialistic things to your life.
I’ll treat you to a free download that usually comes in my courses. But if it helps, I’m happy to share it. Just print the calendar for each month needed.
Notes on what is happiness:
- Psychology Today, What Makes Your Life Meaningful and Fulfilling?