Friday, January 17, 2014

A not-so-secret secret to happiness

I could have just as easily named this essay “The secret to happiness,” but I’m not quite that presumptuous. However, I should point out that the so-called secret I’m going to share is, in my estimation, the single greatest reason why my life is relatively free of strife and depressing burden.

Are you ready for this life-altering mindset? Pay attention, because it will go by so quickly, you might miss it.

Stop thinking the grass is greener elsewhere.

Huh?

This is the realm of philosophy, but I’ve long believed that if Satan actually existed, envy would be one of his most effective tools to keep humans from being able to maximize the enjoyment of their lives.

“Ignorance is bliss.”
“What the eye does not see, the heart does not bleed for.”
“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”

These platitudes are what you usually hear when the green-grass concept is brought up in conversation. But modern humans, chock full of information and endless bombardment from commercial and social media, are hard pressed to remain ignorant.

And who wants to be thought of as ignorant?

What I’m really talking about here is a slightly different perspective on the concept: the life you live is unique, and no one, no matter how rich, powerful, smart, beautiful, etc., will ever be able to live it.

This means that your greatest joys, harshest sorrows,most memorable moments and proudest achievements are not for anyone else to experience but you. That's no meager consolation prize; it's the truth that marketing departments hope you’ll never fully embrace.

One might respond, “Yeah, that’s great and all, but my life can’t possibly be as fun or fulfilling as say, a rock star, a sports star, a movie star or a CEO.”

Now that’s what I would call a vitally mistaken assumption if ever there were one.

Put the lives of the famous entities just listed under a microscope, and for all the material wealth and attention they garner, are they happier than you to an amount commensurate with the comparative disparity in status?

Of course not. They’re human beings, and regardless of their stations in life, they must get up every day and face the same emotional and physical challenges that adversity heaps upon all of us. Yes, they have Lamborghinis and you have a Saturn or a Toyota. Yes, they have servants and you have to do your own dishes. Yes, they live within a lot more square footage, and you must make do with whatever apartment or modest house you can afford.

If you’re being objective and not influenced by hype and envy, do you truly believe that the existence of these material accoutrements automatically brighten one’s view of one’s self, one’s life, and the world around us?

Look at it from another angle. Consider the comparatively superior aspects of your lives:

1) Privacy and Freedom. Depending on how much attention you seek online, you have the luxury of doing what you wish, and moving about in the world, without being bothered. As much as some of you desperately dream of stardom, I would offer that you’re really not thinking it through to an honest conclusion.

2) Safety. The wealthy and famous are always potential targets for all sorts of nefarious activity, ranging from harassment to theft to kidnapping to assault to murder. As a “common” person who (hopefully) tries to stay out of trouble, you stand a much greater chance to live a life relatively free of those kinds of unsettling circumstances.

3) Much less to lose. Few things are as devastating to someone who was once on top of the world as when the status eventually dissipates or the money is gone.

4) Sleeping more soundly. Being human beings, those who are hugely successful are often haunted by guilt, due to the excessive nature of their “rewards.” It’s the whole children-are-starving-somewhere-and-I’m-living-in-a-mansion thing. It’s difficult to honestly reconcile unless you’re a sociopath; and that carries with it a whole different set of consequences.

5) Honesty in love relationships. Let’s face it; humans behaving as they do, it’s difficult enough to find sincerity with one other person, without having to add the impossible-to-ignore status that dishonest people are drawn to. And it gets worse: e.g., a rich man who marries a trophy wife. Neither can ever be 100% sure that the love the other person professes would exist if the outward bait were non-existent. A relationship where both people truly do love each other would never be able to completely shed that suspicion. Many of them don’t even bother; they prefer to both live a lie because they tell themselves what they gain from the arrangement is worth it.

6) Honesty in friendships. As the old saying goes, everyone loves a rich man. Normal people want to be loved for who they are inside, appreciated for what they have to offer that is genuine. Again, when you’re rich or famous, you can never be sure your friends are true. That’s why so many famous people hang out with each other; there is less chance that the other person’s reasons are disingenuous.

7) Self-esteem. Believe it or not, you’ll stand a better chance of possessing healthy self-esteem if the world isn’t insisting that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. Michael Jackson is one of many sad cautionary tales in this regard.

So there you have it.

If you want to be happier, try looking at your life as the best possible one you could be living, instead of as one that’s filled with failures and disappointments generated by your inflated expectations.