Marolt: Stubbing our toes kicking happiness down the road
I want to believe that people are people, no matter where they are from. As I grow older, though, a cynical part of me says that this is true only in the sense that we all have the same general shape and none of us can fly under our own power or live under water.
The truth is that Americans are wired differently. Unfortunately it’s kind of a twisted wire. You wrap it one way and see that we have one of the highest standards of living on the planet. You wrap it again and see that we are satisfied less time than we are not. Wires carrying alternating currents like this and all twisted up like ours are should provide a good shock. But, we don’t seem to feel it. Apparently plastic insulates us from the low-voltage therapy we could probably use.
I mean this in a fairly literal way. A lot of what we think will make us happy is manufactured and its lasting impact can only be measured by observing landfills.
Think about the general path to happiness an average life in the United States takes; I will only hit the high points, leaving the hours of cellphone twiddling and Facebook envying out of the picture:
We are born. Yet, even before we come up for air from the womb, we have been forced to listen to classical music, not because it is elegant and soothing, but because studies have shown it will eventually result in better math skills.
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Yet, music as a solid foundation for solving story problems is not enough; we must learn to read when we are 4 years old, or we are already behind the Chinese. Don’t rest on that accomplishment, though; if the neighbor’s kid learns to read at 3, so must we.
That feeling of accomplishment lasts until kindergarten. At this point we are only nine years away from high school, so we have to get involved to get ready for that. Sports, art, acting, dancing – we have to do it all; very unsure of proven benefit, but everyone else is doing it and we can’t afford to get behind.
Middle school is our chance to get labeled as gifted and/or talented. Spending time with tutors and private coaches are important to help achieve this. If we don’t start standing out, chances are we will never be happy.
We enter high school and immediately begin preparing to get into a great college, because that is what is necessary to be truly happy. It takes four years of pressure-packed hard work to accomplish this, and then we are told an advanced degree from a prestigious graduate program is actually the key to happiness.
Then we get a job. It’s great until we realize we need a better job in order to buy a house, which is now the key to happiness. We get the house and then see that a bigger house in a better part of town will make us happier but, of course, for that we now need an even better job.
We finally get the dream house in the perfect neighborhood only to discover that our ordinary cars look shabby there and none of our new friends are impressed with the medium-size flat screen in the living room. True happiness is now as close as Best Buy and the BMW dealership.
But, nobody can be truly happy without travel. And, even then we could be happier if we left our borders and went anywhere overseas a first-class airline ticket will get us. This helps us realize that happiness really comes from owning a second home or timeshare. But, we also need millions more dollars to maintain our lifestyles into retirement. We have to work even harder for more years to achieve happiness.
Do we ever stop to think that happiness has become such an elusive target moving further down the field that we will not hit it before we die?
This cannot possibly be the natural state of humanness. It is something we have learned, falsely, about achieving happiness through social, commercial, entertainment and news media. A psychologist named Shawn Achor believes this, too. He told me so in a TED Talk. He believes we can rewire ourselves into finding happiness in every moment of our lives. He believes we can reboot our systems by writing down three different things we are grateful for every day for three weeks. This trains us to see the joy in “right now” instead of always in the future. It’s a lot easier than looking for a better job and far cheaper than buying a BMW.
Roger Marolt believes Ray Wylie Hubbard when he says, “Those days, when my gratitude is higher than my expectations, are really good days.” firstname.lastname@example.org
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