In Western society, we are socialized to search for happiness externally. Our materialistic, American culture feeds this warped view. Here, we measure happiness in the same way that we measure success. We are taught that happiness is a by-product of success, and furthermore, we are taught that success is a by-product of having it all: the private jets the designer clothes, the mansions, the big paychecks. Whether you’re an American or a foreigner exposed to American culture, you’ve likely heard this story repeated countless times, and you’ve seen it, too. Perhaps you’ve seen it so frequently that you’ve normalized it.
You don’t have to look far to find images that reinforce the idea that happiness is something can be obtained. Just open your phone and scroll through one f your social media accounts or pore over trending, digital articles. How many times do we see beautiful people living seemingly perfect lives: traveling the world, laughing incessantly? Constantly. Turn on the TV, swarmed with reality-shows propping the lives of bored, wealthy people onto a pedestal. We eat up these TV shows, which is why the networks keep creating more. And even if we think these people or their lives are completely dysfunctional consciously, subconsciously we are absorbing the message that it’s important to be rich beautiful and well, dysfunctional.
We are surrounded by messages about WHAT can make us happy: a new supplement that can make you thinner, a drug that can make you happier. We are also surrounded by images about HOW to be happy: just look at the overflowing self-help books and the explosion of messages about how to achieve happiness online. While these messages are not necessarily negative (many in fact, are very positive, and some suggest strategies that I believe reinforce our positive states of being: such as meditation, positive affirmations, yoga) but as Mark Manson, argues in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, they might be inherently negative. How? Well, Manson argues that by focusing on being happy we are assuming we are not happy already. As a result, we become anxious, frustrated, worried and stressed about our lack of happiness, or compare our own lives to the happy lives we believe others have.
A friend of mine introduced me to this interesting book recently, and I highly suggest reading it if you haven’t already. Admittedly, the title was a bit shocking to me, not necessarily because of the language (I’m an infrequent cusser myself) but because of the message. Is not giving a f*ck really what we should aspire to? My first thought was: isn’t this the opposite of what our society needs right now? With the rising risks associated with climate change, infectious and autoimmune diseases on the rise, and the largest disparity in wealth, don’t we need to give a bit more of a f*ck?
As I began to read this book, however, I realized that this work by Mark Manson wasn’t dismantling the idea that we should care about ourselves, our fellow citizens and society as a whole. Rather, he was reinforcing the idea that we shouldn’t care too much, because by doing so, we’re only making ourselves crazier. By comparing our lives to the lives of the idealistic images we see in the media, we find that our lives are drab and boring and we only become more unhappy. It reminds me of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, “Comparison is the death of joy.”
For me, this book was a total mind f*ck, because the art of inspiring myself and others to live happy, healthy lives has been part of my life’s work. If you read The Clean Method, you know this. But I believe happiness and health already exists organically within us, and we can simply frame our routines, practices and behaviors around this truth. Below is a little poem I wrote about happiness, that perhaps explains this message better.
So what’s the point of all this? Is there any? Here’s my take:
Don’t worry about being happy. Just be. Listen to your intuition. Follow your heart. Live your truth. Do things that make you feel good and you’ll undoubtedly inspire others to do the same.
For more of my writing and poetry, check out @Lit_Poems or check out my latest book, River, a longer poem for my future child. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but clearly I’m really exited to have a baby someday.