Are You Happy...
Some time ago I was on an elliptical at the gym. As i began to move and settled into the right playlist on the i-pod I glanced up at a parade of five flickering television screens ahead.
The first aired Judge Judy with two angry individuals before her accusing one another of this or that, the second was set on a channel of evening news covering a car accident, the third displayed another channel of news showing video of a shooting, the fourth screen yet another channel of news covering a recent robbery, and the fifth screen showing a parody sports channel boasting the biggest and most painful follies of some poor novice athletes.
Every single one of them was focused on conflict, anger, or failure, the last thing I felt like exposing myself to after a long day. Looking away from the screens, I focused on the music filling in my earbuds.
The next time I went to the gym was on a Saturday morning. Back on the elliptical, I faced that parade of screens. No evening news to dominate the airwaves on a weekend. That morning the first TV was turned to an infomercial on makeup that changed women’s lives, the second yet another infomercial on some lawn tool that was apparently capable of transforming your yard into a sprawling ocean of flawless green grass, the third boasted a morning talk show discussing various products that the most beautiful and amazing celebrities endorsed, the fourth screen was turned to some obscure B movie from the ‘80’s, and the final TV didn’t seem to be tuned into anything specific except a succession of car commercials.
As I scanned across the different screens something became so incredibly clear; why happiness is escaping us. The vast consciousness is fixated on anger and hardship. Unfortunately, it seems to be quite a natural thing for the human brain to do; fixate on the negative. But how are we to escape it? This is basically the only thing that the news shows us... with a sprinkle of cute dogs or smiling children here and there. Most of us are completely plugged into the hardships of the globe, through TV, car radio, pop ups on our phones, or social forums. There is no way to avoid it. And guess what… advertisers know this and extort it to the fullest extent possible. What’s worse is that so many of us are wholeheartedly buying into what they are selling.
A troubling fact is that the suicide rate in the United States is skyrocketing with nearly 45,000 deaths by suicide annually putting it in the top ten leading causes of death. Why? Well, just look at what’s on TV. It’s really that simple. The first occasion was a compilation of conflict and tragedy, the next a succession of products that will make everything better… and there in-lies the problem.
To make it very clear, I see nothing wrong with enjoying what we have. This is not about judgement. I have many loved ones who live in big houses, have boats, or could fill their garage with shoes. Securing fascinating jobs, enjoying material possessions and great achievements are all wonderful. The issue is what we believe they mean. Are they the meaning of life, or are they simply accessories? And what happens if it all goes away? Furthermore, the people we love are separate from us, they can also go away. And, the reality is, they eventually will.
The question is If it all goes away.... will you still be happy?
The media would tell you NO. In fact, you’ll be given a hundred different ways you can fix your life all by getting, doing, achieving… more. Yet, deep within us our Wiser Self knows that it can’t. A house is nothing but wood and concrete, a car a pile of metal and plastic, clothes and shoes are bits of fabric and rubber sewn together. Achievements are so fleeting, documented on a piece of paper or described in a photo album, afterwards that’s all they are. A memory. And still deeper, we know that, while people bring us great joy and love, they are still separate from us and cannot satiate a soul grasping for fulfillment.
The pathway to happiness has been known for thousands of years. It has simply been muffled by the loud voices of the media. It is so simple… perhaps it may seem too simple and simultaneously too difficult. Mindfulness. Acceptance. Detachment. This is what is conveyed by all the great Religions, by the Taoist way of living, by the Yogic traditions. Mindfulness. Acceptance. Detachment.
Nothing outside of us will ever bring true lasting happiness, only a surge of adrenaline, a fleeting distraction from fear or pain, or momentary experiences of what Hollywood describes as love.
This truth so often becomes clear after years of feeling empty regardless of attaining whatever it is that was sought after… or when it all goes away. Then reality shines its harsh light on all of it; that the hours of work for more wealth, the accumulation of possessions and trappings of an acceptable American life, that all trophies, all achievements are meaningless in the eyes of true happiness… it’s utterly crushing. Thereafter life may seem like a useless endeavor and the world far too terrifying to bare. And sadly, for so many, suicide begins to seem like the only method of escape.
In a following post we will explore the question what is happiness anyway? And how can mindfulness, acceptance and detachment possibly provide us with happiness no matter what our current circumstances.