By bringing about a change in our outlook toward things and events, all phenomena can become sources of happiness.
The Dalai Lama
We live in an always on, forever connected world. Sadly there is an increasing recognition that our general levels of happiness are not improved by such material things. The pervasive sense of ennui that is spreading throughout western life has become even worse in the early twenty-first century.
This reflects the failure of both consumerism and materialism as ways of life that are able to provide a solid foundation for a happy and meaningful life.
At the same time there has been an increased emphasis on, and an even more frantic search for, a spiritual side to our lives. This quest for meaning has created a form of “spiritual materialism” – the belief that there exists some quick fix for our unhappiness. That there must be a simple, external formula for happiness, one that can be bought (preferably online) and requires minimal effort on our behalf for it to succeed.
None of this is helped by the lack of any real connection in our lives. We may have a thousand friends on social media but still spend most of our time alone, or with one or two other people. How often do we observe others who become totally disconnected from the present when their smartphone beeps or whistles to let them know that someone they have never met has had a cup of coffee, or a really satisfying bowel movement (some people have no shame!). Their flesh and blood human companions forgotten as they attend to their much more important relationships.
We are too busy struggling with information overload to be able to sit back and smell the roses. Last night I went down to the beach. It was a lovely evening and the tail end of a tropical storm meant that there was a spectacular sunset. Quite a crowd had gathered on the promenade – a cruise ship was in port – and the seafront was lined by people taking selfies in front of the sunset. Too engrossed in letting every one else know where they were to actually enjoy the experience for its own sake.
The same scenario can be seen playing out at every school concert. Parents too busy filming their child’s appearance as a star in the nativity play, to actually enjoy watching them perform.
“Happiness” research has thrown up several interesting findings about what truly makes people happy. What is clear, is that beyond a certain minimum level money does not buy happiness. Nor do things or possessions, indeed the things we own often take away from our peace of mind. What if they are stolen, are damaged, or break down? Where would we be without our electric belly button brush? Rather, the research suggests that it is in our experiences and relationships that we find greatest joy. A walk on the beach at sunset with a friend will do more for our sense of joy than any number of new toys. The effects on out health also last much longer.
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
Thich Nhat Hanh
We like to claim that we can multi-task. This is not something that our brains are actually capable of. When we try to do more than one thing at a time we end up doing all of them badly. The cost to our cognitive ability from the constant switch of attention from one thing to the next that so-called multi tasking requires, is high, and is paid for in sress. Being fully present in the moment, fully experiencing what we are doing and giving it our full attention, means that we can finish tasks more rapidly and to a much higher level. It also allows us to take joy in the small things of life.
- The smell of our cup of coffee.
- The pattern of rain on water.
- The smell of freshly ironed clothes.
- The smile of a friend.
- The satisfaction to be found in the beauty of a well tied shoelace, or a polished shoe.
When we adopt a minimalist approach to our lives – decluttering our mind and its environment – we can experience one thing at a time to our fullest ability. and will find that we need less to feel happy. The trappings of success – money, a better job, or possessions all become less important. Once we have a minimal mindset there is less to hold us hostage. We will no longer need to keep up with the Jones but instead we will be able to enjoy the freedom this offers to experience life.