…we don’t really need most of the things we buy. … We just imagine we’d be happier with them. – Virginia Postrel
What does that mean?
Sometimes the research on the quote is the most interesting part. It was a quote that started with “As many a social critic has preached, …”, so it was more a meta-quote, the work of others, repeated, paraphrased, and attributed. Which made it all the more interesting.
In context of her article, she is cautioning against irrational exuberance, and the article tries to differentiate between sane economic gambling and allowing emotions to override logic in investments. This carries over to the rest of us in the form of “consumerism”, or the irrational want of something that won’t be as good as we hope. We end up being like addicts, running from one “fix” to another, never being really happy, and always hoping that the next thing we purchase will do the trick.
Why is happiness important?
“I don’t know, I’ve never been happy a single day in my whole life.” It sounded better in my head, using Ben Stien’s super flat, extra dry voice (from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or from the Clear Eyes eye drop commercials).
OK, I think we all want to be happy. But how are you going about achieving happiness? Are you going from one thing to another, in an orgy of shopping? Are you doing the same thing with romantic partners? Some use food, drugs, fast cars, alcohol or other things to attempt happiness.
The common problem? The “shiny” wears off. Yes, it seems so great at first, but after a while, the ad copy wears thin. You start seeing the flaws, and you are less and less happy as more and more flaws become apparent. Then the disillusionment sets in, and it’s time for the next fix.
So now what? Like the quote under discussion, this quote has been spoken by many people over many centuries. Happiness comes from within, not from the outside. There is no “thing” that will make you happy. Because there will always be a better “thing” next week or next month or next year (just ask an iPhone user).
How many people have you known who loved their new phone (“i” or otherwise) at first, and just couldn’t quit raving about it? And then a year later, when a newer version came out, started talking down about their phone? If you’re like me, then you know at least one person like that. It appears to be human nature.
About the only people I know who don’t behave like that towards their phone are the people who only use it as nothing more than a phone. And they are happy. Some have to be reminded to upgrade after 3 or 4 years. It’s not a status symbol, not an alpha geek issue, not a trendy appliance or an ever growing set of applications. Just a phone.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Apply happiness to anywhere that it hurts, repeat as needed until relief is achieved. No, really. If you aren’t feeling happy, figure out why & stop doing that! Find something that makes you happy and do some of that instead. Sounds trivial, doesn’t it?
As an example, I’ve been other-than-happy a few times myself. Over the course of my career, I have lost my job a few times. A lot of my self-worth was incorrectly tied to the having of a job. Who I was didn’t change from the last day of employment to the first day of it’s lack.
The only thing that changed was the paycheck. After the most recent layoff, I did some examination and found that my true value was in the help I provided to the company I had worked for. So, what could I do to be helpful (and therefore, happy)?
For the first few weeks, I got caught up with all the things around the house that needed to be done, but didn’t because of time and priority. Then I went to my kids’ school and did a few weeks of volunteer work. I was incredibly happy. Still a bit anxious about paying the bills, but happy none the less.
What makes you happy might be different, you will have to ask some tough questions of yourself. What is it that makes you unhappy? Please don’t fall back on “I don’t have [insert specific thing or person here].” Things won’t make you happy for any substantial length of time. What is it?
Try to find the action that makes you happy, the thing you do. Is it dancing, laughing, long walks, bike rides, working out, reading quietly with a friend or two? You’ll probably still have to go to work (bummer), but you should be able to focus some of your free time on the things that make you happy.
If it’s something that has a corrosive or destructive side effect, like eating or drinking, be careful how you do it. Do you really like to eat or drink a lot, or do you do it because you do it with friends? What could you do with your friends that was more positive for your physical and mental health?
Happiness has always been, and always will be. Happiness will only be what you make of it.
From: Twitter, undocumented feed (my bad)
confirmed at: http://www.bigquestionsonline.com/columns/virginia-postrel/in-praise-of-irrational-exuberance
Photo by ewen and donabel