Define happiness in one word. What would it be?
Family. Freedom. Money. Career. People. Equality. Love.
If you asked someone what they envisioned their life to look like in five years, or what they wanted, a majority would say “I want to be happy” and/or “I want to be healthy.” That’s the secret right there. The lifelong pursuit summed up in two words: happiness and healthiness. So why is it so hard for many of us to be happy and healthy? I’ll speak in terms of the American lifestyle, but this would apply to everyone.
The answer is consumerism.
We have been brought up to work our lives away, and for what? To live the American dream of buying material things? To trade our time, which is the most valuable resource in life, for a new phone? I have bought clothes because they were ninety percent off; that’s a great deal! I didn’t even need them. We buy into advertising and get a good feeling when we acquire plastic junk. Retail therapy. And to fuel the shoppers, why not put a fast food restaurant on every corner of every street so that way nobody goes hungry. I am guilty of consumerism like everyone else. I still buy things I don’t need and I still eat fast food, even though I know it’s bad for me.
A few years back I was fortunate enough to take a trip to the eastern Caribbean islands. I was amazed at how happy, as a whole, the local people were. They didn’t have much, and they didn’t need much. Sure, they had struggles like everyone else, but their mindset was different. The lack of stress reminded me of that feeling you get when your floating on your back in the shallow end of a swimming pool with your eyes closed. I wanted that feeling, and almost had a grasp on it, until I stepped back into my all-consuming reality.
Now that I’m a father, the evidence of consumerism and stress has reached new heights. My wife and I struggle with stress everyday, and are constantly in pursuit of eliminating it. Most of it comes from rearing two babies, but I see that we raise our children up in this system of wanting and needing. Spoiled attitudes take place of sufficient thankfulness. The accumulation of all our things bring on a negative energy and a feeling of suffocation. We have the big picture of happy and healthy in our minds, but how do we overcome all of the stress and clutter in our lives?
It is, first, a choice of mindset, and then deciding to commit to that mindset on a daily basis. Nothing worth having comes easy.
There’s nothing wrong with having nice things. I have nice things and have worked hard for them. I’m talking about the excess. By limiting consumerism, we free ourselves to the possibilities of the life we long for. It opens the door for true happiness and allows us to pursue our calling. If working forty hours a week at a gas station and then going home to your family knowing that you have provided security for them makes you happy, then pursue that. If being a missionary or devoting your life to others makes you happy, then pursue that. If you want to be an astronaut, and you know that will make you happy, go do it. If you want to be a writer, start writing. Set a daily goal, and take one small step each day towards that goal. I wake up at five a.m. everyday to write because I don’t have much time otherwise between family and work. There’s only so many hours in a day, so prioritize your time according to your goals and what makes you happy. Commit to it because tomorrow is never guaranteed.
What is happiness to you? Go and get it.