The gift of ‘really living’! | AspenTimes.com

The gift of ‘really living’!

Paul Andersen
Aspen, CO Colorado

When you say “Happy Holidays,” what do you mean by happy? Is your happiness based on a deep, peaceful contentment of satisfaction with yourself and the world? Or is it a fleeting pleasure wrapped under the Christmas tree?

Time magazine recently ranked happiness on a scale revealing the happiest vocations. The clergy came out on top, and gas station attendants ranked the lowest. The ranking suggests that those communing with spirituality are perhaps more fulfilled than those communing with fossil fuels.

According to Socrates, the greatest happiness is the pursuit of wisdom. He didn’t say the attainment of wisdom, but the pursuit. It’s the journey that counts. The idea is to strive for something noble, and in the striving find the highest happiness.

The commercialization of Christmas sets up a highly material gauge on happiness. Sure, it’s good to give nice things to people, and there is happiness in the giving, but the idea of giving “stuff” often runs counter to the deeper values of the more fulfilling happiness found in another kind of giving.

It’s difficult to give “the pursuit of wisdom” to someone you love. That’s usually a self-directed, autodidactic way of being. Still, now that the detriments of materialism are being recognized, the pursuit of wisdom should be on everyone’s list this year.

According to a recent essay by a global climate change consortium, the forfeiting of material stuff for soul-based pursuits should become a top priority. “The inconvenient truth is that to ensure quality of life for future generations, the world’s wealthiest societies cannot continue our current lifestyles and patterns of economic growth.”

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This is a huge challenge to our materialistic culture, but there’s a sound rationale: “Our high-consuming lifestyles and Western patterns of economic growth are not actually improving our well-being: they are not only unsustainable, they are undesirable.”

The widespread frugality suggested to reduce climate change assumes that techno-fixes alone are not enough to stem the tide. Large-scale resource and energy conservation must be adopted, which is a “blessing in disguise,” concludes the essay. Getting away from materialism will actually benefit us all.

“Scientists are discovering a convenient truth: our happiness does not depend on the consumption of conventional economic goods and services, but instead is enhanced when we have more time and space for socializing, for nature, for learning, and for really living instead of just consuming.”

This idea is either laughably naive or profoundly brilliant in its timely vision for the future. Ultimately, it begs the question: Does our happiness depend on stuff or does it depend on “really living?” Is happiness owning the big house on the hill or living the rich experiences of life?

Amory Lovins, an efficiency expert, says that we don’t care where electrons come from to provide our electricity, so long as we can enjoy cold beer and hot showers. If alternative energy and energy efficiency can deliver those electrons, it makes sense to choose clean electricity over dirty alternatives.

It’s the same with happiness. Rather than attaching happiness to material stuff, from which science now says it does not derive in the first place, why not find happiness in ways that won’t damage the natural world? “Really living” is available to us all, so why not choose that over material stuff?

Cornell economist Robert Frank, author of “Luxury Fever,” defines “really living” as consuming less, spending more time with family and friends, working for our communities, maintaining physical and mental health, and enjoying the benefits of nature. These are some components for sustainable happiness ” the deep kind ” rather than the gift-wrapped variety.

Given the high expense of materialism, economically and environmentally, the best thing to put under the tree this year is the goal of “really living.” It might be the best gift you ever gave yourself and your loved ones.