I believe this is an extremely important article, so please read it through if you have the time. It might seem long, but I do believe that it is well worth it.
The pitfall of modern civilization (especially western civilization) is, in my opinion, that it favors achievements over how we feel on a daily basis. From quite an early age most of us are taught that your worth is measured by your achievements – you must finish school, have a respected job, own respected and in-demand objects. And this is rather normal and most of us would never even think to question this way of things, after all – why would we? Our civilization thrives on achievements, it is achievements and goals that have made us advance so much in terms of technology and knowledge, but…did it also help us advance as human beings? (yeah I know, sounds like a cliché question, but try to bear with me).
In my opinion, this advance that we are achieving as a society and as a culture is coming at an extremely high cost – the cost of the individual’s happiness. Here is why:
Let’s take a very trivial example. We watch a lot of tv, movies, read a lot of magazines every day (at least most of us do). All of this has a profound impact of how we perceive life. We see that some rich people are smiling a lot, and they own an expensive and nice looking car. With time, we start associating things: having a nice car = happiness.
So we start saving up for that car. We go through a lot of ordeals, from doing extra work, to cutting down on our expenses, saving up every penny we can, taking credits, etc. We are willing to do a LOT for this car because, in our minds – this car, this ACHIEVEMENT, is our key for becoming a happier person.
We do all of those things that are supposed to get us the car, most of the time becoming much more overworked and stressed out than we were before, even though we may not realize it. This whole process slowly but with no mercy drains up bit by bit our life energy. But we accept it and don’t worry about it, because – in our culture – we are taught that in order to be happy, you must ACHIEVE. And in order to achieve, you must, in a way, accept suffering. So we don’t protest, we want to go for that car.
A years or two later, you buy the car. You are overwhelmed for some time, extremely happy with your purchase, which is a normal and healthy reaction for having achieved our goal – we release a lot of adrenalin and endorphins and other enzymes, making us feel happy. We tell all our friends about the car, feeling for a moment “in the spot light”, since everyone is admiring us.
But, a short time later – most likely a few weeks tops – this initial outburst of happiness fades away. And suddenly, we find ourselves no longer that happy. In a way, we find ourselves in back to square one – feeling the same way as we did before we even decided that saving up for the car and purchasing it will make us happier. We ponder on it for a short time and quickly decide that, in order to REALLY become happier, we must achieve a NEW goal; perhaps an even better car, or a house this time? Which is also quite understandable – since that’s how our modern society teaches us: if you want to be happy, you must achieve goals, strive for more, reach checkpoints.
What most of us do not realize during this process is that while we are busy achieving our goal, we are slowly becoming what we do daily. In other words: since you’ve spent the last 1-2 years stressing out way more than usual over how to save up and make money for a car, stressing out and worrying has become basically a HABIT of yours. As strange and unusual as it may sound – you have almost become stress itself. So you suddenly find yourself with a car, but unable to simply enjoy it for a long time. You have gotten used to having to constantly challenge yourself and overwork yourself, that you simply have to continue doing that – now you must buy new speakrs for the car, then change the interior, perhaps buy that cool GPS device you saw. And the circle goes on and on and on, actually without any end. We become more and more used to being constantly busy and constantly fighting for something, that the goals themselves actually stop counting – it’s just about the tiring chase now. That is what I believe our modern society’s most serious illness: the inability to simply enjoy things as they are.
There is this nice analogy I would like to use here: think of a donkey (mind you, I’m not saying any of us are donkeys !) with a stick tied to its back, and a carrot hanging from that stick right in front of the donkey’s face. The donkey keeps on trying to get that carrot by various means: speeding up, slowing down and then suddenly jumping forward, running as fast as it can to try and catch the carrot. Non of it works unfortunately. I believe that for a lot of people, the achievements they set to themselves are like this carrot – they embody happiness into some sort of goal, and keep going for it, but never really reach it. What could the donkey do in this case described above? Well, does it really need the carrot? The donkey could simply ignore the carrot (as enticing as it might look), stroll around a bit, find a nice beautiful spot with grass (and maybe even growing carrots?), sit down there, and chew on it delightfully and with complete joy.
That’s what missing in our lives. It’s not the carrot, but the ability to enjoy that what we have RIGHT NOW.
And mind you, I’m not saying that you should simply sit in your house and do nothing, absolutely not! What I mean to say is that, if you set a goal for yourself, you should be absolutely sure that you are NOT stressing yourself out in the pursuit of that goal. The road to achieving that goal should be very pleasant and relaxing for you. And you must also be able to distinguish between what is actually relaxing for you, and what you actually do in spite of yourself, not because you enjoy the activity, but because you enjoy the idea of achieving the goal itself. The other approach is quite self-destructive in my opinion, and I would personally stay clear of it.
This is something I’ve been very much incorporating in my life lately. I’m starting to slow down every day of my life and just be very mindful of everything I am doing at any present moment. I’m of course not trying to force myself to enjoy simple things such as washing your hands or walking down the street – you can’t force that. What I’m trying to do, however, is to never actually go ahead of myself, and never let my thoughts race into the future. If I’m doing something, then I’m doing it completely relax, and I’m DOING it – not just to get it over with, but simply because there is no sense in rushing, as goals themselves don’t really matter that much; what matters is that you get there peacefully and without damaging yourself in the process. With time, I’ve noticed that this approach to life has made me extremely relaxed on a daily basis, and it has actually resulted in me enjoying everything I do daily, much more than I used to. Do I still set goals for myself? Yes I do, but I try to make the journey pleasant! If I want to lose weight , for example, I don’t go out running just because “running makes you lose weight easily”. I don’t like running (I used to think I did, but I was actually forcing myself to like it just so that I could keep doing it, and it wasn’t worth it in the end). Instead, I ride the bike – because I like it.
Or go to the pool – because I like it. Always try to think of the most pleasant and least stressful ways for you to achieve your goals. Because the happiness from those goals is really a short-term thing, so what will matter in the end is the happiness you get from the achievement, but the happiness you get on a daily basis with all the simple and complicated things that you do everyday.
You are what you do on those regular, everyday days, that somehow go unnoticed almost like they don’t matter. Make them matter.