What Really Matters to You?

Is this the dawn of your dream - or the sunset of it?In our culture we don’t spend much time thinking about happiness. It could be argued that happiness is the most important thing in life. It’s a universal good. Nobody has a personal definition for happiness that is a negative or something they want to avoid. Everyone wants happiness, however they define it.

What is amazing is, in Western culture at least, there doesn’t seem to be any time in life when people are formally encouraged to investigate what makes them happy. Twelve years of public school doesn’t offer any subjects in introspection or life planning or anything else that is clearly and overtly aimed at discovering what makes you happy in life. Almost all formal education is devoted to making people conform to whatever characteristics make them employable later in life.

Even parents (and I am one) seem to almost exclusively focus on encouraging their kids to seek stable employment above all other considerations. “Stay in school” and “Get a degree so you’ll get a good job,” are such common advice that they are always considered politically correct and completely uncontroversial. It’s seems stable employment is prized over the focused pursuit of personal happiness. How many kids here, “Think for yourself and do what’s best for you. Don’t get manipulated by authority figures.”

When you think of all the hours devoted to school lessons, school sports and time with friends and family, the absence of time spent seriously contemplating the nature and sources of your happiness becomes screamingly obvious.

A high school student spends about 800 hours studying math alone. That’s on top of a couple thousand hours of math before getting to high school. In all those years how many hours are devoted to discovering, understanding and planning his or her path to happiness? Close to zero, maybe? Wow.

Math study: 3,000 hours.

Personal Happiness study: 0 hours.

Hey, could that turn a person into a worker drone who’s conditioned to just do what he’s told?

Who came up with that plan? Who does it serve? Are we raised to live life on our terms or on someone else’s terms? Are we working every day to fulfill our own well-defined desires or someone else’s?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.


5 responses to “What Really Matters to You?”

  1. There’s a great book called “The Geography of Bliss” which examines the happiest and unhappiest countries on earth. While there is a tongue-in-cheek element to it, the book shares how different people on earth find happiness.

    Heck, in Bhutan, they focus on Gross National Happiness rather than GDP. I don’t think Bhutan, with its lack of a traffic lack and an all-powerful (albeit happy) King, is the model for the world, but it’s an interesting study.

    I would argue that celebrity worship and the idolization of money has caused happiness to be less common in the west. As a died in the wool capitalist, that’s not a suggestion that money is bad. I believe in maximizing one’s abilities and making as much as possible. The problem is that those who don’t have the money to do what Brad and Angelina do are constantly seeking that next great hit rather than enjoying life.

    I myself just got over the need to have a sprawling four-bedroom house. As a single guy, I’d be happy to have a large one-bedroom in any number of large, exciting cities in Asia. Rather than focusing on “what’s the cheapest cost per square foot” I’ve shifted my focus to “where can I live happily at a figure I’m willing to pay?” Living in hotels and studio apartments while I travel is a lot better than rattling around a big house in a country I despise.

    • And to get to the conclusion you’ve reached you have to do some thinking and experimenting. What irks me is how people are pushed into the proverbial cubicle-job without ever examining what they really want. And I’m with you on the giant home trap. I’ve owned a big home but I was very happy the day I sold it. There are so many trade-offs when you take on a mortgage on a fixed asset. I’m not saying it’s wrong or stupid – but there are serious trade-offs that don’t get discussed because so many people are waiting to benefit from your debt and immobility.

      • Yes, and because few in western society – heck, in society in general – wants to be a contrarian. As the newest investor on Shark Tank has said, “successful people are those willing to do what unsuccessful people aren’t”.

        I’m not opposed to buying a home, having a mortgage, etc., but not if you’re doing it because everyone else is, or because you’ve fallen into society’s trap that real estate is a “great investment”, or because you don’t want to think creatively about your financial future.

        Granted, not everyone is an entrepreneur, but there are a lot better ways to make money than buying real estate.

  2. Great stuff Pete.

    “To try to find happiness with the goal of doing what seems to make other people happy is to fall head first into the identity trap.”-Harry Browne.

    This is a major problem in collectivists countries like Korea, China, and Thailand. One isn’t to think for oneself. It’s about the family, the group. You must study so you can become a successful doctor or lawyer. Happiness be damned. Your identity be damned. This of course happens all over the world including the USSA with our “American dream”. But suicide rates due to parental pressure to “do what they say” are far higher than what is reported in these Asian countries.

    Once again, happiness is another area where carving out your individual desires, wants, goals and ultimately purpose is going to get you there, while trying to serve the so-called “group” will likely leave you miserable and deciding on choices that will make you the least unhappy instead of the most happy.

  3. Exactly, Kevin. And that’s the kind of lesson that never occurs in schools because school is all about getting people to set aside their priorities and work to achieve somebody else’s idea of who and what they should be. “Good worker.” “Good citizen.”

    And I’m sure 98% of the teachers don’t even realize what they are doing or that it was done to them. What is the loss to humanity of having billions of people living lives they don’t really want and producing so much less than what they could? Suicide? Many of these lives are just one, long suicide over decades.

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