I was browsing Imgur in my early morning distractions today and came across a “dump” containing images of various displays of monetary excess. That’s to say, diamond encrusted cars, yachts that can store other yachts or luxury cars, even a gem-encrusted “hamburger” (non-edible.) The point of this post was to suggest that “Money CAN Buy Happiness” and the topmost comments were all in support of that. Now, many of these consumer sites are just an echo chamber for our own ideas and never a place for debate so I just moved on. But it did get me thinking. Many of these images were purely objects, no person in sight, no indication of who owned it or if it was just something made to be made. Without a person to see being happy, it’s hard to say that any of those things made anyone happier.
Happiness is a noble pursuit, I heartily encourage everyone to seek it. Things, however, are just things. You can find a penniless monk who has more than his share of happiness, suggesting that owning things isn’t the answer. You can also find millionaires who are unhappy, having more things isn’t a guaranty that problems go away. Much like pursuing happiness is great, things can be fun to pursue as well. I will not say that being penniless is the answer, rather I think it’s worth remembering that you can be happy before you buy something and then buy it anyway.
I see this mentality all too common, I definitely see it more with younger folks. When I was growing up, we called it “Keeping up with the Joneses”, the assumption that you needed to own the things that others had. More recently, with the Internet, it’s even more widespread. You could argue that Apple computer’s greatest success is creating this cult following for their products. If you aren’t using an iPhone then you must be poor, and poor is increasingly the worst condition possible. Instagram is the great re-enforcer of this as well. There are countless Instagram influencers who spend their time posting pictures of them holding, or sitting in, objects of monetary excess. The entire purpose of these posts is to create some sort of envy which will encourage others to go out and spend as well. Increasingly, the Internet and social media are making materialism the most primary of human needs.
The state we’re in now is a by-product of what has been growing regularly in America these last 100 years. The most important thing is to get as expensive an education possible to get the highest paying job possible. The goal, in America… the American Dream even, is to get rich. To that end, we place this crown on the head of any “successful business person.” It is presumed that if you’re rich, you’re done something right and you deserve total respect. You’re the one that parents tell their children to be like. The most important goal is to make as much money as possible. Sadly, this becomes more and more about the money and less about making a difference or contributing to the world. Wealth is the goal, the definition of success, rather than looking at what you’ve contributed.
The point I’m trying to make is that being mindful of yourself, your actions and your effect on those around you should be the highest pursuit. The world would be a happier place if, when we’re hitting midlife, the crisis isn’t that we haven’t earned enough money, bought enough things, travelled to enough places. The world would be happier if we hit midlife and then look back on all those people that we’ve helped, all those smiles we created or the things we have crafted. The great news is that many, maybe most humans as they move into their golden years start to realize this. The retirees that spend their time helping others, or just taking more time to cultivate relationships instead of amass wealth, are happier than they were in their early career. Somewhere, 50 years into our lives, we start to take enough of a look at ourselves to see what matters and start to make that change.
Your mindfulness challenge here is to be aware when you’re comparing yourself to others and consider instead what you have. Actually take a moment to be thankful for the blessings you already have, or the wealth of experience you have available to you.