Sometimes people who travel to third-world countries report that although the people are very poor they seem much “happier”. They often follow it up with some comparison to materialism and an inference that we’d all be so much happier if we knew how to live with less.
This off course is not totally true, but it does have a ring to it. I mean over the past 50 years, despite the standard of living rising dramatically in the western world, happiness levels have not increased, while mental illnesses, anxiety disorders, narcissism, and depression have all gone up.
So, what is it people seem to experience when they encounter people with less than themselves but who seems happier?
Well it is not that poor people in developing societies aren’t happier, they’re simply less anxious and less stressed. Why? Because people in the developing world don’t care how many friends you have on social media or if you bought the latest luxury model car or not.
They’re much more family- and community-oriented. They’re also more socially accepting and less socially anxious simply because they have to be. It’s how they survive. Consequently, when you take individualistic westerners — especially ones who have put their work and wealth before all else— when they’re exposed to this, they perceive it as being a “happier” or “healthier” way of life.
In some ways, it is. But at the same time, it’s exactly what our system, our society gave up to gain its abundance of material wealth.
When a society goes from ‘feudal’, that is the social system in the Middle Ages, based on lord and subject or slave order. To a ‘meritocratic’ (in sociology, Meritocracy is a social system in which people get opportunities and succeed based primarily on their talent (Merit) and effort, not on their class).
The price its people pay for that increased standard of living and social mobility is an increase in stress and anxiety.
Why? Because in centuries past, people knew where they fit into the social order. If you were born a peasant, you knew you it. If you were born a lord, you knew you were a lord. There was no chance or opportunity, and so there was no stress about getting ahead. You weren’t responsible for your birth right, so you accepted it and moved on. But in a meritocratic society, something changed; if you’re poor, or you gain success and then lose it, it’s not an accident. It’s your fault.
You’re the failure. You’re the one who lost everything. And this causes people to live with a constant fear of inadequacy and this in turn motivated by a status anxiety. After all, the greater the opportunity one has, the greater the anxiety of somehow missing out on it. Hence, we stress: we need to get higher scores, to get better jobs, to have more expensive toys, to have cooler interests, to be more liked and more popular.
Simply being content with what we have isn’t good enough anymore. In fact, for some it’s equal to giving up.
Think about it for a moment. A capitalist system function on fear. If you make a person feel inadequate or inferior, they will buy something in order to feel better. This system promotes a society where people constantly feel inadequate and inferior. And when you combine a capitalist system with an infinite flow of information (for example, the internet), a side effect is people who is reminded of the infinite amount of ways of how inadequate and inferior they are.
This is described by the phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Or maybe as it is known today as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” an American reality television series, that shows us the consequence of consumerism.
“Keeping up with the Kardashians” afflicts us all, whether we realize it or not. As humans, we are unconsciously measuring ourselves up against one another constantly. It regrettably plays a large part in how we define ourselves, whether we want it to or not.
Now with social media, there are millions of Kardashians to keep up with. This isn’t an argument against capitalism. And it’s definitely not an argument against social media. I’m simply making observations and stating some facts. In today’s world, it is impossible to not be reminded of how somebody, somewhere, is doing something that is much better and more important than you, and be reminded of it constantly.
The implication is always the same: What have you done lately? Where? and with whom?
We’re bombarded every day: here’s the brave fire fighter who saved a school bus full of children; here’s the 20-something billionaire who is going to cure cancer; here’s the 8-year-old girl who can sing opera. We are overloaded! It is therefore logic that something somewhere must give. And that something, is our mental health. Our systems overload on stress, anxiety and eventually crash and result in anxiety disorders, depression and serious health problems.
But there is a way out… stop. Just stop!
Stop selling yourself out for the sake of attention and false praises. Not that attention and achievements are wrong, but they should not be prime motivators that drive your life. Stop rushing around and chasing the so-called pie in the sky. Stop and rather start where you are. As they say, wherever you go, there you are.
There’s something worthy about finding fulfilment in the simple, everyday pleasures of life. Yes, it’s becoming harder and harder to do. But if you can’t find joy in the simple or the ordinary, then you won’t find joy anywhere.
Instead, focus on simplicity. Slow down. Breathe. Smile. You don’t need to prove anything to anybody. Including yourself. Think about that for a minute and let it sink in: you don’t have to prove anything to anybody, including yourself.
What you need to do is stop trying to be something and start being. Similarly, to what Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
It is time to slow down and rediscover who you are. About all you can do in life is be who you are. And yes, some people will love you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some won’t like you at all. But always remember that your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Be the original self!