The Pursuit of Happiness: An Introspective Exercise
Lately I have been thinking about life's problems. Â Money, health, education, living space, employment, disasters, political and social unrest.. Â You name it, it's been on my mind. Â They seem like overwhelming problems and cause so much pain in misery, I often wonder how we as modern humans let it get this bad. Â I've also been looking at my own life, and how I can make it work within my means while bettering the position of my family. Â Follow my thought process here, as long as it is, and perhaps you can help give insight to this same argument. Â My interpretation of happiness is having rules to follow, or consequences of following such rules, that manage to bring about five things: Â Shelter, food, water, comfort (to a degree), and protection for me and my family. Â First, let's look a the rules that govern our happiness, see what gets in the way, and then explore ways to meet those goals.
The first thing I thought about was the need to be remembered. Â Everyone likes to be remembered I think, going down in the history books, talked about, made famous. Â Some choose to do so infamously, some choose to make contributions that are worthwhile. Â And some like to do it dramatically. Â Take the ancient Britons, for example. Â For all it's perceived religious importance, all the henges, like Stonehenge, Woodhenge, and the like, all are lasting monuments to their existence. Â If truly religious, they are lasting monuments to their religious beliefs and practices. Â If just a gathering and feasting location, or part of a burial rite, then it is a lasting monument to that practice. Â It's both remembered and lasting, and that seems to be the important thing to the ancients. Â Even the ancient Egyptians with their art, structures, sculptures, and tombs. Â The Romans with their great buildings of concrete, central heating, and hot and cold running water. Â And even the ancient native Americans with both their temples in the South, and their cliff dwellings in the North, all left us clues and remembrances of who they were. Â Legacy has been important to humans since we have been human. Â And a huge part of that legacy has been measured by wealth.
Another rule is morality. Â Whether it be biased by religious influences or simple social contracts, moral rules dictate how we as people interact with each other. Â Laws have been put in place for those who egregiously offend another, and social taboos have been put in place to manage minor offenses. Â And often these rules are seen as too restricting. Â Partly because when religion is enforced to the point of overriding one's right to make those moral decisions themselves, or when someone is looking to avoid the consequences of their choices, it can interfere with one's happiness. Â Often times this is self-imposed, though sometimes it can be imposed by someone who is "judging" your choices.
A final rule I will throw out there is self-image. Â Often we take the rules of morality and prosperity to mean the same thing, but I don't agree. Â Self image is something beyond both, though both those rules can reflect this particular rule. Â And this rule has it breakers, either those who misinterpret what a positive self image is, and those who assign self image to consequences that are beyond their control. Â This is a problem, and one that needs to be thrown into the mix.
Another given rule is that we all have problems. Â Disasters, famine, cramped urban living, commerce, it's all existed before. Â As has been the blaming of others for our troubles. Â For generations we as humans have tried to solve this problem by imposing rules. Â Religion in general has provided rules of morality, either simple or complex, promising happiness by following these rules. Â Secular living has tried to cater to our need to gather monuments to our lives through possessions or accomplishments. Â Problems come when something comes along, either unexpected or contrived, to bring our rules into conflict.
For example, a flood could wipe out a self-sustaining farm, and thereby destroy the livelihood of a family for an entire year. Â The destruction of a home by fire, earthquake, tornado, or hurricane can leave a family homeless while also destroying or severely damaging all that family's possessions. Â Company lay-offs or severe illness can leave a family destitute, with no home or shelter of any kind and forcing those families to rely on their own wits or the help of others, be it family members or social programs. Â These events happen to people of all faiths, all denominations, whether devout or rebellious. Â Yet each can assign blame on one rule or another, either moral, legal, economic, or political, and everyone can assign their troubles to a different rule. Â This, I think, shows us as a person, which rules we value the most. Â An interesting insight, I should think.
So, is happiness within our grasp? Â First, let's look at prosperity. Â Call it wealth, call it things, call it land, call it fame, call it acclaim, it's all prosperity. Â There are two conditions that need to be met in order to be considered prosperous: Â You need stability, and you need recognition. Â Having one without the other makes for fleeting prosperity, and a very shaky position. Â At a high level some governments have tried to rigidly control everything, which can best be represented by feudal governments, autocracies, and even some theocracies. Â Religious communities like monasteries, abbys, and even whole countries run by religious states have tried to control every aspect of society and economy. Â Kingdoms tried to do the same through rigid social structures and controlled economic markets. Â Both worked in that they provided stability, though such rigid structures caused a strain on the population recognition. Â That strain, either by forcing people to live in a certain socioeconomic tier or just by limiting access to education, reduces the human desire for recognition for their efforts, and cause unrest and eventual revolution. Â Often this is because a person feels powerless, unable to make their own decisions and way in life. Â If your decisions are made for you, and no matter how hard you work, how much better you work, or what you create, you do not benefit from your efforts any more than doing little or nothing, how can you feel prosperous?
Still others, even in a free, truly democratic society where everyone is left to their own devices to make their own way in life, find themselves paralyzed by the lack of structure, lack of direction, and ultimately a lack of confidence in their own decisions. Â Recognition comes quickly, but is just fleeting. Â Economic changes are quick and impact all so completely that stability comes into question. Â Paralysis because of uncertainty is a quick and easy way to torpedo prosperity, even with recognition. Â Those that become paralyzed don't take care of themselves, because they don't think they can or feel that responsibility is that of others to take care of them. Â They may even feel that because their parents or ancestors, prior appointees, or those in previous positions they took had respect, they somehow inherit it and do not need to work for that same level of respect, or recognition. Â Why should they demean themselves by putting in the effort when their predecessor didn't seem to make that same effort?
So what really works? Â What is it we as humans are striving for so diligently, and yet seem to never manage? Â Personally I feel that we as humans are trying to succeed in life by the rules we have adopted, and provide a way for our posterity to succeed in life. Just like our prehistoric ancestors, ancient ancestors, and every age previously. Â The only problem, it seems, is the rules we impose on ourselves. Unfortunately, those rules seem to be so complicated that we can't live up to them all by avoiding conflict, leading to discontent and, in some, paralysis.
How can we be prosperous, even if we are not a millionaire? Â How can we define prosperity so that we meet the stability needed, while reaching the level of recognition we want? Â Is that even possible, today? Â So, what simple rule can be followed to meet happiness in this goal? Â Well, perhaps being happy with what you have, and knowing that you can save for what you want/need. Â Spending money you don't have isn't sustainable, because eventually that money will come back to bite you in the form of crippling debt. Â The problem with this rule is that it is so open to interpretation that it can become very complicated, very quickly. Â So, the problem with stability is living within your means. Â A great way to do that is to live simply. Â Cut out waste by looking at what you truly need. Â Create a budget, look at all your outgoing funds, all your incoming funds, put it on paper, and check to see what you really need to spend. Â Perhaps shopping for less expensive food, cutting out Cable TV, or getting a smaller home might be the answer. Â We all have to make these decisions ourselves.
Personally, my family has been trying to cut out as much waste as we can in order to better live within our means. Â We have been decluttering our house to remove things placed away and forgotten. Â We look at what is really important to us, and how we can possibly consolidate those things. Â We were trying to find a larger house to accommodate the needs of our son with Autism (such as a sensory room), and now we are looking to better utilize the space available in our existing home. Â By being content with what we have, pruning out waste, and improving our position, we improve our stability.
At work I try to make my mark by improving processes, managing better projects, and making myself a valuable asset to the team. Â Am I at my dream job? Â Yes, though it wasn't always my dream job. Â I'm not a History professor, politician, or famous actor, but I love my job, and can't think of working anywhere else while I still have so much to give. Â The recognition I earn is from my students: the satisfaction they have my my classes and the knowledge that they are able to take with them to increase their own recognition and stability. Â So my two requirements for prosperity can therefore be met. Â Notice, it's not an end, it's a process.
Morality is next. Â This is perhaps just as ambiguous, as so many people have different definitions of what is morally correct. Â Many try to challenge other's moral codes, trying to discover hypocrites in the midst, and so on. Â Morality, for me, is how one interacts with others. Â Moral conflict can come when your personal moral code of conduct seems to limit the happiness goal of someone else. Â Often it's in conflict with someone's goal of prosperity, but sometimes it can be someone's moral code that is trespassed.
Morality is really a question of decisions and consequences, no matter how you look at it. Â If you are religious, you have a set of moral codes that you live by. Â If you choose to ignore them, certain consequences are assigned based on the religious affiliation. Â Those that are not religious, but choose to live by secular moral codes (i.e., laws), receive certain consequences for trespassing those legal codes managing interaction with others. Â Some rules may seem silly, and some seem obvious. Â But all of them are important, as the consequences of following or not following your respective codes can dictate your happiness. Â To avoid negative consequences and receive positive consequences, you follow your chosen code. Â Most of the consequences are social: Â they identify you as part of a social group with the same ideals, and grant you the benefits of said association. Â Those of a religious disposition would argue that lasting benefits of a metaphysical nature are attributed with following those codes, while those of a secular disposition know their overall well being is not hampered by following the law of the land.
But some feel that their moral code, be it religious or secular, interferes with their rules on prosperity. Â If that is the case, you may want to re-evaluate one or the other. Â Being a religious person I am biased toward both religious and secular codes, and therefore see any conflict with said codes and my goals as prosperity as a need to re-evaluate my goals for prosperity. Â To date, I have not had that problem, and hope not to have that problem in the future. Â But, again, this is a problem that requires some deep soul searching. Â For my family and I, we have to date chosen to follow both religious and secular codes of conduct to the best of our ability.
Self image is a puzzlement, as generations have defined it differently, and different societies, based on their focus on prosperity or morality, made their own definitions. Â My personal definition of self image is a feeling of worth to others. Â That is, whether or not someone else feels like I am a contributor to their well-being, I feel like I have made some contribution that betters others as well as my own position. Â It is, ultimately, the main indicator on whether or not you are achieving your goal of happiness.
Wealth has often been a sign of self image, as more wealth can generally mean more independence from others. Â Independence generally means one can now determine how they can live, and therefore the prosperity portion of happiness can be easily satisfied. Â Include a moral goal reached by following your chosen moral code, and it seems your self image is well on it's way. Â Yet many with wealth feel they don't have enough, while those without wealth seem perfectly happy with what they have. Â How is that possible?
It's because those with great wealth generally don't feel they are not worth much to others. Â The same can be said for those with great fame or acclaim. Â If you are an actor or actress that became famous for a movie, how does that help someone else? Â They are entertained for a moment, and they are done. Â But take that same actor or actress, and watch them use their fame, wealth, and acclaim to build something lasting, then it changes. Â They feel a part of something. Â Perhaps they champion human rights, the cause for those with disabilities, the need for medical research, or something similar, and they have found something that helps them feel good about themselves.
But do we all need to make such large, dramatic contributions? Â Heavens no! Â I personally feel that any parent who has managed to raise a child to be a successful contributor in this day and age should have more than earned their feelings of self worth. Â A successful contributor would be someone with a moral compass that does not run afoul of at least secular law, and the ability to provide, to some degree, their own prosperity. Â That is a level that I feel my parents have reached, as I am very grateful to them for the values and abilities they have encouraged in me. Â Do date I can only hope I can be of the same benefit to my own sons.
So there you have it. Â Honestly, this post turned out to be very different from my intended goal. Â The introspection has helped me immensely in my own goal of being happy. Â Does anyone else have anything to contribute? Â Have I got anything wrong? Â What would you say?