Much of the social chatter on my media feeds lately has been on happiness. I got to wondering why. What is it about us as people that constantly seek out fixes. Most of what I was reading was “how to be happy” or “steps to happiness” and the like. Depression rates in the first world are through the roof (as evidenced by multiple studies presented to me while working as a university campus nurse trying to deal with the increasing influx of appointments for mental health…) In my opinion, and based on my own life experiences I can say I think this is due to multiple societal trends:
And what I like to call “the unfinish line”.
First off the consumerism: most everybody already has heightened awareness on the subject. We are a society of disposable everything. Not happy? Buy a new car/clothes/vacation etc and then you too can have the happiness in the commercial/ad/billboard models. Same old stuff. The scary thing is that even though we all know about it. We all continue to contribute to organizations that employ mass marketing departments whose sole focus is to get inside our heads so we NEED what they are selling. Food companies are devising ways to decrease fat and sugar contents of food so we can consume more (increasing profits). Shareholders are demanding growth so companies are forced to either make cuts (decreasing benefits and quality of life for employees or in some cases outsourcing to third world countries and putting employees at risk. Bangladesh factory collapse anyone? For the $5 t-shirt?) or the companies are forced to increase profits (Whoever thought of bottling water was genius! Maybe next they will sell us air, making the literal jump from Lorax to real life.) Anyways, none of the aspects of consumerism have lead to actual happiness in my life. Even when I do get the fancy boots or jewelry in the little blue box my second instinct (after admiring my shiny new object) is to look around to see what everyone else thinks/has/or does not have. How is that healthy at all? And the more we are exposed to the marketing the more we feel we need the latest and greatest to be happy. I’ve even noticed now that companies don’t even have to market…mass media will do it for them. Watch your facebook feed next iphone release…people want it to be known that they have the shiny new object (which makes them inherently happier than you…or does it?) If this is confusing to anyone here is a consumerism graph visual reference.
Now onto Media. Which is married conveniently to consumerism as it is the method of transmission. Since I’ve already covered consumerism’s effect, let’s go straight to what else media brings us…feelings of inadequacy. This is the biggest one in my book, although media does bring us much more (some even might be positive!) But with media we surround ourselves with skinnier, prettier, wealthier, healthier images of people than ourselves. So much so that it tricks our brains into thinking that we are the only ones who are different (bigger, taller, shorter, poorer, sicker etc.) Which is not fun OR healthy for anyone. Look at all the beautiful people of television or magazines. We create a world that we surround our subconscious with, which is unattainable and unrealistic. Remember the mental health visits I was looking into at my place of work? They weren’t only depression, eating disorders are on the rise too. I’m not naive enough to think that society is totally to blame for these conditions or pompous enough to suggest I have the answers. But all of this is new when it comes to our neural physiology and the way our brain works, learns and processes information.
Bringing me to the “unfinish line”. This concept struck me while I was a part of a mastermind group of young entrepreneurs 6 years ago. We were always seeking out the latest and greatest. How to become the next big thing, or at least figure out financially how to obtain a piece of the pie. Each week we would trade on presenting topics to help each other in our exciting endeavours. Then one day it was my turn, but instead of my usual organizing and prepping material for the presentation a thought kept arising: When is it enough? At what point do we stop and say “Eureka! I’ve found it!”. My “enough is enough” presentation bombed. Nobody understood the question. Or maybe they didn’t want to understand the question. They asked “But why would you stop?” When you are always in chase mode, and the finish line continues to move forward maybe you don’t want to slow the pace to a walk and look around. The thrill of the chase is just too good. Similar to a runner’s high, exemplified by the adrenaline and stress inducing cortisol (fear of failure is motivation for some). Maybe you don’t want to stop to hear the wind rustling the leaves through the trees, seeing the sun glitter on the dancing leaves. Perhaps the smell of flowers doesn’t interest you. To me that is all that we really have. This moment, right now. And I’m trying to make the most of it. So after harping on what is wrong I will give you my two sense on what to do about it.
Get away from the screen. Not forever, just for a little bit. All screens, television, phone, laptop, ipad etc. Engage in your life. Put on your own cooking show in your kitchen. Make some drama happen with your spouse (hopefully the romantic kind) or roommate (hopefully the fun kind).
Get outside. Breath in the air. Smell the weather. Feel the sunshine. Reconnect.
And last, get moving. Treadmill is good, outdoors is better. Go for a vigorious walk, bike ride or run. Walk the dog. Turn off your mind and turn on your senses. Look at the world around you and be in the world. The real one. With real people. Change your perspective. Be grateful for what you do have. And notice that happiness happens all on it’s own.