Monday, February 4, 2013

The American Obsession






Americans are obsessed with one thing.  It's as if we have taken Maslow's Hierarchy of needs and placed it right on top.  The pinnacle of life. Above self actualization. There sits happiness.  Something we Americans strive for.  But, kinda like sustainable capitalism, it's a myth.  Unless, I've been misinformed and some entrepreneur has already canned sustainable capitalism for export. Which is of course ridiculous, because the only thing America exports anymore is the crazy notion anyone, even if you’re completely devoid of talent and integrity can be a celebrity.   And with everything that comes with that, then you’ll finally be happy.

Years ago, when my kids were little, I had this mom friend.  An acquaintance really.  Her kids were both in elementary school and any time they had a problem, they came to her to solve it.  Which she did.  Then she asked them "Are you happy?" Not in a condescending way.   In a hopeful way where you knew the answer she was looking for was "Yes."  I had never ever in my whole life asked any of my kids if they were happy.  I'd never even asked myself that question, until I met her.  Which is why I thought it was so odd.  

When I did give it some thought, I realized I don't want to know if my kids are happy.  They probably aren’t.  After all, I rarely give them candy, I restrict video games, going to the dollar theatre where we can see a movie everyone else has already seen and given the ending away is an annual event, at best.  Even then, I sneak in food from home and have embarrassed my kids when we got caught.  I think, at this point in my kids lives If they tell me they're happy, I'm a complete failure as a mom. Cause it's not my job to ensure their happiness.  It's my job to give them the tools to succeed in life by solving their own problems.  Which may, or may not, result in happiness.

On any given day I go through about 25 different emotions.  Very rarely is happy one of them. That's not to mean that the majority of my feelings are negative.   I can be disappointed, frustrated, depressed and enraged.  I can also be content, proud, pleased and inspired all within 15 minutes of one another. But, happy is more illusive and more fleeting than the others.  

Why does our culture chase happiness like it’s a perpetual orgasm.  I can tell with complete certainty it’s not attainable. Definitely not sustainable.    

In American culture I feel like a freak.  That I'm supposed to "Follow my Bliss", "Have a Nice Day" or say I'm "Great" when I just might feel like stepping off a ledge.  Also, do not tell me to smile.  I got that one all the time as a sullen looking little girl.  I will not fake a smile to make you comfortable. Anymore.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not miserable.  Anymore.  Because I've been working really hard to get to a place where I feel good about myself. So I can defeat the bad guy.  Me and my apprentice, lack of confidence.  After much introspection and many walks of shame to the self help section over the years, I’m closer than I’ve ever been to contentment before.  I’ll meet happy half way when it flitters by.  But, I’ll also feel all the other emotions that come with being human.  Let’s face it, the pursuit of happiness is destined to become an unhappily ever after.  And no one wants that.

If you would like to break the cycle of chasing happiness check out  This is How by Augusten Burroughs. 








11 comments:

Joy Page Manuel said...

Marie has spoken! *wootwoot* I'm happy you wrote this! Yes, you made me happy! I feel the same way...always at a loss for words everytime someone makes me ask myself that question (if I'm happy). Which is why I've come up with a standard answer. I just say, "I have pockets of happiness", and I think that's good enough. Yes, Americans are utterly obsessed with happiness which is probably why a lot of people are on anti-depressants and simply over medicated. We think something's a disease when most likely, it's simply a dis-ease, un-ease or plain and simple normality. I wonder if it has occurred to people that it is this pursuit of this highly elusive happiness that makes a lot of us incurably unhappy. Hmmm.....

The Loerzels said...

@ Joy-Exactly! The pursuit of hapiness is stresstul.

Chantel said...

Nail. Hammer. Head. You, my wise friend, have brilliantly explained the quicksand that is "the American dream." I truly believe that the secret emotion/feeling that is the real "happy," is contentment.

From a recent conversation to my eternally poor sister agonizing over her life, I said: "When you have enough purses, you will have enough money. Tell me, when will you ever DECIDE you have enough?"

Contentment. That you've done enough, said enough, own enough... this is the road I choose.

Cerebrations.biz said...

Wow. This might be your very best one yet, Marie!
And, yes, you are right- pursuing happiness is generally a futile task. We can choose to be happy doing whatever; and we can choose to do what we think is the most important thing for us to do; but they do not guarantee mutuality.

Cathy Tittle said...

I am not so sure that people understand what true happiness is. For me, it has never been about things, posessions, or something that I could create. Happiness for me has always been linked to peace and harmony in my life. When I felt at peace, and my life was balanced...I felt GOOD. And laughter has always been part of that. Laughter to me is feeling good about myself. If all is right in my world I don't think about happy...I am just balanced.

Great thoughts Marie...you are so unique...

Sine said...

Love that part about not caring whether your kids are happy. At least not right this moment. They hardly ever are. I'm that same kind of mom.

Interesting that you brought up the American Dream. After all, I came to this county for that dream, so I wouldn't be quick to dismiss it. But the key is, as someone else here said, that true happiness really lies in contentment. Isn't that also what Buddha essentially said? The problem with so many Americans is that they look for easy answers, the quick fix, instant gratification, some kind of magic pill to happiness. And yes, that is only ever a dream...

Thanks for the quick philosophy session!

The Loerzels said...

@ Chantel-Contentment it is!
@ Roy- Wow! Thank you!
@ Cathy-Good, funny, laughter...can't do much better than that!
@ Sine-Exactly and that pill's call Prozac.

MommaSachs said...

Seriously a great post! I completely agree. While its nice to be happy with your life you're not going to be happy ALLLLL the time. In my mind its nearly impossible. And yes, I hope my did isn't "happy" either :)

Janine said...

I used to be one of these people. Chasing happiness. All I wanted to be was happy. My goal was happiness. Having struggled with depression for 18 years that's all I wanted. And then someone wise put me onto the book called 'The Happiness Trap', and I realised the error of mine, and many people's ways.

The first step to happiness is to be satisfied with what we've got. The second step is to recognise that when we get (insert most applicable - man, job, house, car, money, etc.) it probably won't make us happy, cause then we will be wanting something else. The third step - be happy with who we are. After that, happiness may come. Or it may not. Life is about highs a lows, good and bad, emotions and living. If we were all happy all the time how boring would it be!

MuMuGB said...

Somehow, your post reminded me of a song that I used to love : Shiny happy People (REM). Do you remember it? I am not sure what people expect to feel when they want to be happy.
After all, we are all doing the best we can and, to me, that's good enough.

The Contemplative Cynic said...

When I first moved to the US (from Zambia), I asked a friend about this and she said, "The pursuit of happiness' is in our Constitution, with an emphasis on the PURSUIT part." I've given up trying to figure out what's so wonderful about pursuing happiness when contentment has always worked for me.

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