The Quest for Happiness

Have you ever thought what a strange place our modern world is? It is strange, wonderful, and even a bit scary – and like the Land of Oz, not everything is always at it seems, either. We live in a world of illusions and mysteries, where reality is hidden between the folds of secrets and lies. Our perceptions are constantly being challenged and manipulated by information we receive from outside of ourselves. External sources like advertisements, television shows, social media, the local and national news, movies, and even the books we read have more power than we realize to influence our thoughts, choices, behaviors and most of all – our feelings.

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Day in and day out we are hotwired to a stream of endless information and much of it is deliberately designed to promote a careful selection of manipulated truths to steer our thoughts in certain directions. Sadly, even the feel-good information we absorb that promotes self-improvement is, more often than not, contrived to make us feel bad, or less than others. We may not even realize it is happening to some extent, but that is the device of great marketing. So many products and services are developed with the sole intent of convincing us to buy-in to the fantasy of who we can become. They create campaigns, like car ads, that cause us to believe what we ought to purchase in order to improve our lives. Companies hire very smart people to create fictional tales, via advertisements, to make a promise of the one thing we all want. Happiness. For the right dollar amount or credit score you can finally have it! You will feel better, look perfect and be more successful – if you do or buy this great thing over here. Or over there, and oh, look here’s something else! You are so close to being happy.

And, so, we buy.

We throw money at happiness and feel great, for a little while.

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Americans are the largest consumer market in the world, making up over twenty-five percent of the entire global consumer market. This statistic is nothing to brag about. We have become a nation of shopping and credit card addicts. Not because we have so much money to throw around, but that we have so much to fill inside ourselves. We crave to fill the void within us. And it seems the more connected we become with our technology, overwhelmed with our hectic lives and the stresses of life (including financial worries) the more the void grows.

When it comes to social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – we are submerged into another world of buying in and those feelings of need. All those perfect pictures and wonderful moments shared by our friends and acquaintances make us believe that they have their lives together. Mostly, they don’t. They are not much different that you or me. And even though we often realize what we see online are beautiful illusions and easily created – and we know those perfect poses and super fun adventures, vacations and awesome purchases are only snapshots in time, it can still set up doubts about our own success in achieving the same level of happiness.

What is supposed to be a way to connect with other people in a fun and interactive way, often brings on negative feelings of insignificance, jealousy, or isolation. Being bombarded by other people’s goodtime photos can cause us to experience depression and anxiety. We don’t feel like our lives are on par with what others are doing and achieving. We develop Facebook envy and even feel bad when we don’t get as many likes or comments on our own posts, or don’t have eight-hundred and sixty-six friends. Everyone around us appears so much happier than we are – they have got it all figured out!

We forget, it is an illusion.

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Social comparison is not new, human beings have no doubt been doing it since the first caveman made his wooden club with spikes. All the other cavemen were amazed by its ability to kill rabbits much more effectively. Then they were jealous. But, then they emulated it – made their own spiked clubs. And though they felt some resentment for the spiked-club inventor, jealous of his new esteem with the tribe, they settled down and hauled in more rabbits than ever before. It all worked out copacetic in the end.

In the twenty-first century, however, humans are experiencing the biggest challenges of social comparisons we have ever had to deal with because we can get a glimpse of nearly anybody’s life we have an interest in. People everywhere on social media are sharing their best moments and looks, gaining esteem (by thumb and heart counts). We are not only eating it up, we are addicted to watching the lives of everyone we follow unfold before our very eyes. We are doing the same things. We are seeking attention, or esteem, although most of us are won’t to admit it. The difference between us and the cavemen is that we are wasting time seeking, emulating, and not getting anything out of our social comparison. We remain empty.

If this sounds like a cynical and misguided statement, consider this. How much of what you see on TV or the internet causes you to feel good about yourself just the way you are? A few good inspirational books out there make a serious attempt to lift readers up, yet, they also tend to give us the idea that if we are not thinking positive enough, grateful enough or giving enough to others, then that is the reason we are not happy. Granted, thinking positive, being grateful and doing positive things can boost our sense of worth – and are a heck of a lot more effective than being trapped in a cycle of negativity. But they are still just part of the symphony of a happy life.

It seems the more we have available to us in this modern world, the more dissatisfied we have become. More and more we are searching for our happiness. It is as though finding the way to true happiness is becoming more mysterious all the time. We have endless opportunities for fleeting happiness but finding that nirvana of sustainable happiness is the challenge.

Most Americans are living pretty nice lives and have everything we could want at our fingertips, but in a 2017 Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, only 33% of Americans surveyed said they were happy. The interesting part of this poll was that those who said they were happy were those in high-income households and those with a high school diploma or less. Republicans tended to report higher levels of overall happiness, too. Men were happier than women. Millennials were the most optimistic about their futures at 79%. Although the poll was three years ago, and before a pandemic, economic crisis, and civil discord – I am excited that this newer generation had a positive outlook (but that was prior to 2020).

Two important tidbits gathered in the happiness poll was 71% said that their spiritual beliefs were what kept them positive and a whopping 86% of the happiest people enjoyed positive relationships with their families. This sounds like something to pay attention to, an idea that real relationships and faith appear to be a major factor in finding happiness. But not everyone has or want a religious or even spiritual belief system, nor do they have available a loving or positive family support system. Does this mean we cannot be happy without them? NO – happiness is far more multi-faceted.

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Find out why in my Part Two post.

Joan 😊

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