There is a happiness paradox nowadays. Life has gotten much better for people in terms of convenience, technology, and general standard of living, but people aren’t any happier than people from 50 years ago. This is quite a conundrum. Wouldn’t it be natural that people should be getting happier if their lives are getting better on a scale?
On average, people are living longer, healthier, with having more luxuries. Fifty years ago it was rare for a family to have two cars, but now it is a given. The average age of living is now around 80 years old, while around 50 years ago it was 60. With the internet everything is so much more convenient; 50 years ago nobody would have imagined that you could pay your bills or even order groceries online.
So if we are living longer, healthier, and more conveniently, why aren’t we living happier lives? The answer lies somewhere in human nature as well as society. As humans, it is difficult to ever be truly satisfied which may be rooted in our primal sense of “survival of the fittest.” However at the same time, society promotes the “dog eat dog” mentality which makes us to always want more and never be satisfied with what we have. If we have a car, we will want to have two. If we have two, we might want to add a third. If we have three, we might want to have a motorcycle on the side.
In Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” that he gave when he was dying of a terminal illness, he stressed the idea of working with what we have and in his most memorable quotes said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” This quote has many meanings, one of them being that we should be satisfied with what we have, and make the best out of it.
Now I’m not saying to achieve anything in life and to lose all sorts of inspiration, but just not to become frustrated when your neighbor drives a BMW and you drive a Toyota. Materialistic goods never bring happiness or satisfaction. The feeling we get when we buy something new or expensive is a fleeting one. It is gone here for a second and gone the next.
I remember when I was 9 years old, my biggest dream in the world was to have this RC car which could drive itself even when flipped over. Flashy commercials with the RC car doing flips off stairs, driving in the dirt and water, and doing spins tempted me so badly. I wanted more than anything to get this car, and I decided that once I got it that I would be satisfied for the rest of my life. Therefore for my 10th birthday, I begged and pleaded with my mom and told her that this was the last toy that she would ever have to buy me. She shook her head and tried to talk some sense into me, but I refused to listen.
On the fateful day that I finally got the car, I was the most excited kid in the whole wide world. It was an exhilarating feeling tearing open the box and taking out my new toy. However after a few hours of playing with it, the appeal quickly wore off and I remember being shocked of how quickly I got bored by it. I then had a small epiphany as a child how material things couldn’t truly bring lasting happiness.
As elementary as this example is, I feel that it is an effective one. Even though we may look at children and say that they are foolish for wanting to have such useless toys, we could easily look at adults who buy even more expensive “toys” such as designer purses or expensive cars. Sometimes when people feel depressed they try to cure themselves with “retail therapy” by buying expensive things to make themselves feel better. However it never brings satisfaction, but rather wanting newer, better, and more trendy things.
Therefore we must learn how to stay away from material things, and be truly satisfied with the small and personal things that we have in our lives that we might often take for granted such as friendships. At times we forget how precious friends are that we often push away friends in lieu of work or even studying. Sure that extra hour at work or studying may earn us a few more bucks or even help us a little on our test the next day, but think about how much more precious that extra hour would be with our friends.
So to truly be happy in life, really count the blessings that you already have in your life. We are often distracted by what we don’t have which blinds us from what we already have in front of our eyes. The only way we truly realize how valuable something is until we lose it. For example, I always took my health for granted until I damaged my knee during a basketball game which put me in crutches for almost two months. During those two months just getting from point A to point B was a chore, and I remember looking with envy at people who had perfectly good legs who just took them for granted.
Being happy in life is not a goal or destination; it is a process. People often tell themselves that once they have that Mercedes or that 3-bedroom house with the white picket fence that they will be happy in life. And guess what? Once they get that fancy car or that big house they still feel empty which makes them constantly chase for bigger, better, and more expensive things. There is no reason why we can’t strive to be happy RIGHT NOW than later. Why make ourselves miserable in our everyday lives just to say that we will strive to be happy once we finish school or get that top-paying job?
I have many friends who often put schoolwork over their own personal happiness. They always tell me that by secluding themselves from their friends and from social events, that they will succeed and go to a top-school, where they will get a high-paying job from when they can start having “real fun.” But the sad fact is people with this type of mentality never end up being happy, because they will always have the mindset of putting work above everything else. One day they might get that high-paying job, but when they get that they will find another distraction. Working even harder to get that raise or that higher position.
I am not advocating just having fun and putting away all of life’s responsibilities. I am just stressing the fact that we must balance our lives and value our own personal happiness and well-being at the same level of school, work, and our responsibilities.
So really try to live in the present and value the things that we already have rather than we don’t have. Sure other people might be richer, taller, or better looking than us, but that shouldn’t distract us from all the other blessings we might have like our talents, passions, friends and family. And really try to put happiness as one of the NECESSITIES in our lives, not something that are frivolous and unnecessary. And once we can learn how to focus on what we have we have than what we don’t have, we can truly be happy.