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Parenting can be hard. Life is full of challenges, and having responsibility for one or more tiny humans on a day-to-day basis can be very daunting. Whatever philosophy you subscribe to, mindfulness is a technique that is gaining popularity in our overstressed and overworked western society. We have to work to earn enough money to pay the bills in order to live the lifestyle that society tells us is the ideal that we all should aim for. We all ‘need’ tablets, gym memberships, cars, new clothes--wherever your interests take you. But at what cost to our happiness?
I came to the conclusion recently that the western world does not value happiness anymore. This might seem an odd conclusion to reach, given that every day we are bombarded with imagery that would suggest that happiness could be achieved if only we were to invest in the latest gadget, holiday or product to hit the market. So when we buy these things, why are we not happy?
The World Happiness Report makes for interesting reading. Some of the factors they take into account are perhaps more obvious than others, such as perception of corruption and a healthy life expectancy; conditions that those of us lucky enough to be living a middle-class existence in western countries often take for granted.
Not surprisingly, GDP per capita and social support are factors taken into consideration when ranking countries in order of overall happiness. Our average monthly salaries in the West would be enough to support entire families for a whole year in less developed countries, and yet still we strive for more and tell ourselves that we do not have enough.
It will not be a surprise to most of us that have enough money to provide shelter, food, medical expenses and a good life expectancy are all basic ingredients to the happiness recipe. But most of us in the West are fortunate enough to have so much more than this. We live in democratic societies rather than dictatorships, we have a good life expectancy and have access to government support and health care.
But human nature focuses on dissatisfaction. Always wanting more. Our thoughts are our own downfall, and our minds can run away with us as though we have no say in their behavior. Our minds tell us that we cannot be happy unless we have ‘fill in the blank.’ So if our minds are the key to our happiness, why is it not as simple as deciding that we want to be happy, so therefore, we are?
Generosity was the contributing factor to happiness on the list that made me take notice. Defined by The World Happiness Report as whether or not people had donated money to charity in the last month, other definitions mention giving more of something, such as money or time, than is necessary or expected and showing kindness to others. This got me thinking about our relationships with other human beings.
In western society, we have become much less focused on personal relationships than we used to be in previous generations. We are told we can have everything we want and this sets us up to fail as we are striving for an impossible goal. Societal expectations tell us we have to own a house, go on holiday and have so many material possessions that we must work long hours in order to ‘have it all.’ There are only so many hours in the day, therefore these long hours spent earning money must mean that we have less time to spend on other things such as our families and ourselves.
We no longer have the community that was the norm a few generations ago. We do not live with, or in many circumstances even close to, our parents and family, which means that everything falls to the nuclear family with limited support when the wheels fall off. Financial pressure, social expectation or personal ambition means that both parents often take the decision to work full time, even though there is no extra help or support available when it comes to looking after a house and children. In some cases, having it all can mean having too much on your plate.
So what does this mean for happiness? Even though Western nations have a high ranking on the happiness index, we also have some of the highest rates of depression in the world. The family and community support network still present in many other cultures do not exist anymore. We are too focused on rushing to the next goal that we do not prioritize personal relationships.
So generosity, both physical and emotional has been identified as playing a key role in happiness. Refocusing on giving to others is important to our happiness. We all have time to give, and this can be one of our most precious possessions. Make that call, stop and greet, spend the time. Having it all doesn’t mean doing it all by yourself. It is impossible to operate as an island, even in an age where self-sufficiency seems to be a commendable trait.