So why are so many people so miserable? My daughter Amy, cited a perfect example today. She works in a department store, and mentioned that she had at least 10 miserable or depressed people in a row go though her checkout. She thought she must have done or said something wrong. Then Kim mentioned that when she was a checkout chick in the UK during the 80’s, she remembered that everyone who she served were mostly happy. Why is it now the case that some of us are not as happy as we used to be?
I believe it may be two things, loss of community, and affluenza. Let me expand what I believe to be both these causes.
The loss of community may be one of the contributors to some of the problems in today’s society. This breakdown of our sense of collective belonging is one reason that, although material wealth and well-being has increased massively since I was a child in the 60’s, rates of depression, drug abuse and suicide have sky-rocketed. Why?
Maybe it is because we move away from our families and friends, we stay in the office or at work for longer hours. We spend our spare time watching TV or sit in front of screens instead of communicating with each other. We do all of these things because we think they will make us happy, when in fact they undermine our connections with each other, and therefore we lose our sense of community. Community can be family, neighbours, workmates or just the people around us. How many people do you know who talk to their neighbours like the good old days?
This brings me to my second point of affluenza. I have written about the subject of affluenza before, but I will expand on it and its perceived link to happiness. Affluenza is the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. It is also an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness cause by the pursuit of the capitalist dream. The never-ending pursuit of material wealth which causes harm to the environment around us, which one thinks may lead to happiness.
Does this sound familiar?
I know for a fact, that is exactly what I used to be like. Chasing the almighty dollar, thinking that the more material things I owned, the happier I would be. Upon reflection, I was sorely mistaken. I was sad. I was always in credit card debt, had personal loans to pay off for this and that, and I was always after the next shiny consumer electronic goods.
At the end of the day, whatever I bought made me feel different for a few days, but then when the excitement of the purchase wore off, the reality of paying back the debt hit home as usual. So when one catches Affluenza, one places a high value on money, possessions, appearances (both physical and social) and fame without any consideration for the drain on our planet of its resources that is required to make all of the stuff to fulfil this need or desire. It also does not make you happy, case in point, the miserable people going through Amy’s checkout buying hundreds of dollars worth of Easter eggs! I know what they did with their stimulus payout. It was the rush of buying stuff for the sake of it.
Over the last two and a half years since we began our journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle, we have never been happier. By discarding materialistic habits, and living a simpler life, we have found the bountiful happiness that eluded us for many, many years. It was in front of our faces all along. It was within us and all around us. It was in the joy of feeding the chickens every morning. It was in the gift from nature by watching seeds grow in to edible plants.
It was in the conversations with family members at the table at dinner time and in the eating of home-grown meals. Happiness was in paying off all our credit cards, and buying needs, not wants, with cash. It was in the beauty of the Sun, the Moon and the air that we breathe. It was in the bees that pollinate my fruit and vegetables. It was just amazing. The old me couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Now I can see everything and am truly happy. I give thanks for simple living and the lessons that it has taught me.
Now, if this post sounds a bit preachy, it wasn’t meant to be. It is simply a reflection of my life over the last few years and how much it has changed for the better.
So, what if, as a society, we worried less about materialism, and focused on building a culture that emphasises simple living and personal connection with your community? If my journey over the last two and a half years are anything to go by, not only would this help cure our environmental woes, but would help build stronger, happier people and communities.
Too good books to read on the subject of materialism and the persuit of happiness are ‘The power of now’ and ‘The new earth’ by Eckhart Tolle Most libraries will have them
Silver Rookie says
Not a truer word was spoken!
Gav Happy Easter to you and yours may you always find joy in the moment and the spectacular in the simple.
Hi Gav, I get your posts via email and this post poped into my inbox last week but I have not got around to leaving a comment until now.
Great post Gav – you and I think a lot alike on this subject.
You only have to go to tribal communities that have ‘nothing’ (in the view of the rich west countries). However these tribal people often admit how happy they are. Interesting some of the richest countries in the world also have the lowest ‘happiness’ rating in the world.
Really great post Gav!
I spent today in a friend’s garden looking after it while she is away. I noticed the sun shining right through the autumn coloured vine leaves on her pergola at 3pm…. next time I am taking my camera. I saw a family of tiny red robins feeding on some berries and a honey-eater buzzing like a hummingbird, as it sipped nectar from a salvia flower. I noticed the garlic tips were just showing through the soil and I found 2 enormous teeth marks on one quince…. and you know what? I had a great day. Who could want for more?
I just came from this rather interesting description of one Australian woman’s “reverse-culture shock” experience of moving back to Australia after living in India for 15 years, which you might be interested in: http://www.whiteindianhousewife.com/2012/04/reverse-culture-shock-is-life-in-australia-really-any-better/
She has very similar complaints. I found it quite enlightening to have the perspective of someone from outside Australia! I can really relate to many of her points, like what my workmate describes as “suburbia ad nauseum” (!). My Iran-born husband also pointed out that no matter where he goes in Australia, houses look identical and there’s no urban design distinctive to Melbourne, Sydney etc, whereas in Iran, every city has its own “feel”