The Elusive Pursuit of Happiness in The Age of Excess
|Mar 4|| 5|
How to Be Happy in The Age of Excess
There are an increasing number of “tactics” to be happy these days. We’re told to meditate, give gratitude, travel, be present, - the fact is, we’re told so many things that we should do, that we become even more overwhelmed with our already full to-do lists. And then, we begin to feel bad, because clearly we are not living a happy life if we can’t find even two minutes to meditate each day, much less the prescribed twenty.
And we know we have to give gratitude, but it’s really hard to be grateful on days when you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, annoyed at your job, which you realize is a pouty thing to feel bad about because you know you’re lucky to have a decent or well-paying job.
Traveling is awesome, you love exploring new places and cultures (but who doesn’t, really?) and the pictures prove it, you had a great time. Maybe you even posted a few pics on social media.
‘I swear it was the best time of my life’ the pictures yells. ‘I definitely didn’t spend a quarter of that time on my phone checking emails and scrolling through Instagram to make sure that people did, in fact, see and like my vacation pics.’
And what does being present even mean these days? We can physically show up, we can do the dance of putting our phones away to have a conversation, then furtively checking it when the other person goes to the bathroom - can’t be seen alone with no incoming notifications to respond to. I mean, how lame would that be? Do you even have a life? Do people even like you?
Each day, we wake up so consumed with the things we have to do, the things that we don’t have yet, the things that we think matter - that if you stopped to think about it… Do they really matter? - does that deadline, or that email, or that client really matter? I mean yea, it pays you - but how often do you feel joy, and I mean pure joy day-to-day when you open up your inbox and start mentally ticking off the people you have to respond to. What percentage of those people, if you never spoke to them ever again, would you actually miss?
Happiness is a really convoluted concept these days. How can we be happy when there are so many other things we need to be doing? When there are so many other people who need our attention?
We live in The Age of Excess.
More specifically, Excess Choices - driven by a capitalistic societal belief that more is better. More is ALWAYS better.
The next best thing is always around the corner - the next post, the next deal, the next show - “Entertain me,” we seem to be saying. “Occupy me,” “Feed me,” “Give me MORE.” The pursuit of more is stimulating, it’s exciting. It gives us that initial rush of dopamine. It also helps that other people admire us when we have more.
But at a certain point, MORE starts feeling… well, a little too much. And suddenly we want less, but by that point, we don’t know how to wean ourselves off because we’re addicted to the pursuit of more, and less is inherently worse… right?
If we cut things out, we might not like the few choices that we are left with. We might get bored. And boredom - lack of busyness - is really scary.
What does it mean if we have nothing to do?
What does it mean when our schedules are not packed back-to-back with opportunistic meetings?
What do we do when we aren’t presented with superfluous choices to occupy our time? “Should I respond to this email or should I not respond to this email?” “iPhone X or XS or XS Max?”
Making a conscious decision to give up certain choices entirely (i.e. it’s not about which Netflix show I should watch, but rather that I’ll just delete Netflix) means that you’ll actually have some space to be with yourself, your own thoughts, and eventually get to a point where you have to face the fundamental and hard choices in your life that have no immediate gratification or clear Google-able answer.
“What actually matters to me?”
“Am I living in alignment with what matters to me?”
“What do I do if I don’t even know what matters to me?”
The answers to these questions not only require time, they also require TRUST… Trust that there’s something greater at work in the world that will take us to where we need to go if we actually create space to just listen and be.
So it seems,
The pursuit of happiness in The Age of Excess may very well lie in the abandonment of the pursuit in the first place. - Lisa Carmen Wang