The Feeling and the Reality of Better
It seems strange to even be talking of the things that make happy. Doesn’t everyone know what will make him-/herself happy?
Put it in the context of “ecology,” and things get even worse. So many things we all “should” or “must” do have been preached to everyone who’d listen (and everyone who didn’t really want to hear it, all the same), why would anyone feel like listening to anything more like that?
The fact is, though, that there are all too many things that make happy which we’d do well to be reminded of. We get so caught up in the need to make money, the desire to keep up with (imagined) others around us, the allure of the next new thing, we completely forget that life is actually about something else.
Even worse, we have all too many dreams that aren’t really ours, all too many goals we follow in the pursuit of happiness that will lead anywhere but to lives that are truly happy, purposefully and satisfyingly lived. To add insult to injury, our cognitive biases make us feel we know exactly, in our very guts, what will be good for us even when we really don’t.
This network of influences (yet another “ecology”…) leads to the heart of the problem continually faced in the struggle for better: Consumer society’s program and our basic psychology go together very well in making us continue to think (and more often, feel) that we just need it easy, just want to get into the safety of comfort and convenience, just need to have that one more thing.
It all sounds so easy and obvious – and some of the things that would actually make happy, in also seeming only too simple but still requiring quite an effort, don’t sound all that enticing.
Eating well and with friends, having and making enough, paying attention to what you are doing? Sure thing. Who would say that they aren’t doing that, or at least trying?
Then, though, you have to realize that it doesn’t mean popping a TV dinner into the microwave and eating it in the company of TV figures, or spending time socializing by chatting around the watercooler in the office, if that is still allowed for more than a minute. But, in these hard times where it may take two jobs just to scrape by, how is anyone supposed to have the energy for anything more (even if arguably simple)?
So, in the confluence of very basic psychological tendencies and the dis-education of consumerist living, we continue to feel pretty confident that gaining more comfort will make us happier, and won’t feel like doing anything risky. We won’t even want to face the trouble of having to convince ourselves that we have enough (let alone weed out the superfluous stuff) when we just “know” that this-or-that knickknack holds memories, might yet come in handy, used to be expensive, and is simply ours… whatever we have to tell ourselves while we go on buying new things even while old things need to go into rented storage space or “require” a bigger house with a larger attic or garage.
We keep up old habits that actually don’t just die hard, but meanwhile also make us live badly.
Better, on the other hand, then lies in learning what truly is better, even if it (initially or constantly) goes against the first impulses we may feel.
We want to eat what we always have, what is quick to get, has a satisfying mouth feel, is fatty and rich in carbohydrates, salty and excitingly flavored, but not too exotic… but we hardly ever realize anymore that eating has always revolved not only (if at all) around the cheap and convenient, but around culture: what is producible or available locally, how to cook it in ways that suit the places and the palates – and, most importantly for our current issue, what you should learn to eat and enjoy because it’s good for you. Pass the Brussel’s sprouts. Or the bitter melon…
The same holds true for grander issues.
Take security: We do lots of things – just think of flying and the “security theater” that has come to surround air travel, but also so many things regarding eating, fitness, work… – all for feeling safe and comfortable. We avoid what we feel may be risky, uncomfortable.
Of course, it’s necessary to have some fear, avoid the painful and hurting – but it often keeps us from trying out anything much that’s new, makes us retreat into the comfort of the well-known, avoid the discomfort that comes with necessary effort – and it has us never realize that we increasingly spend time in the safety and comfort of unthinking ways of eating and inactive ways of living that are slowly making us ever more unhealthy and lacking in fitness, and keep us out of the better, more deeply engaging, lives that are just waiting for us.
The comfort and convenience of “modern” living – just flip the switch, watch things get done for you – not only has our skills never develop well anymore, the energy use and material consumption that accompanies it has the world getting a less hospitable place for us… but it’s all good, we are still in comfort. Just turn on the TV, grab some snacks, and be happy you can aspire to that sort of life.
The better life doesn’t wait in the aisle of the supermarket, in the shopping mall’s stores or among the glitter of the strip mall, however.
The better life waits for you to get up and create it, by living it, step by step and touch by touch.