The externalisation of happiness.

It’s been said often. It’s been thought infinitely more often; “It will be the next thing that saves me.“It’ll be the next adventure where I achieve realisation and become enlightened.” “It will be the next lover that brings a deep connection as we wander into the sunset silhouette of eternal bliss.” “Those clothes would complete me.” “That car would definitely say sexy bastard and definitely not say “desperate old twat.””

It will always be the next thing that brings happiness. After each new thing? It will be the next new thing. And when it fails to fulfil it isn’t the processes fault. It is the item, person, adventure that just isn’t quite right.

I spent most of my life looking for happiness at the bottom of a glass. I consumed alcohol under the pretence that the next pint would give me the feeling I was seeking. In the end, I was sick from seeking happiness. I was mentally and physically broken from overindulgence. I was miserable. I had been miss-sold a route to happiness and I had no customer service to voice my concerns to. All I knew was that more was the cure. The end result was always going to be an addiction. Is the pursuit of happiness through consumption destined for the same outcome?

After 9/11, George Bush urged people to “go shopping.” As did many leaders after the COVID lockdown. I get it. I understand that we need debt and consumption to keep the economy going but where is it leading? My pursuit of happiness led me to the misery that required escapism that led to misery. I am not saying that will be the case for everyone but what I am saying is what is the fucking point? Hyper competitive people playing an illusionary game of who owns the best car against people they don’t know. All the while the threat of layoffs is keeping them awake at night. Is this the best we can do?

An ever increasing amount of people are now using chemical means to redress the imbalance. Using prescription medication to fend off the unhappiness that many are experiencing. It isn’t surprising. Look at the diets we have adopted. Look at the places we have built for ourselves. We have turned the natural habitat into an environment unfit for the people it was built for. Are sick people better consumers? Is it possible that we create discontent people to sell them the illusion of contentment? No advert ever tells the truth “buy this. You might be happy for a day or two!”

Much like an addict is borrowing happiness from their future. Over-consumption is borrowing happiness from the lives of future generations.

We are children in grown bodies. Seeking toys to entertain us while we avoid the harsh realities of life. It was once said that Americans have no second act in their lives. I think that goes for many in the western world. We avoid emotional pain and as such learn no lessons. There are few heroes journeys. As a result, there are too few lessons learned. Self-entitlement is plentiful whilst gratitude is rare.

So what is the answer?

Moderation is the only way. Developing children to be stable and comfortable with who they are. That life is not TV and the “good guy” doesn’t always win. Failure is a possibility but shouldn’t be feared. To generate the belief that contentment comes from within and luxuries are nice but they shouldn’t be sought just to try and fill a void. Taking responsibility for our actions instead of looking for blame. Teaching healthy eating and balance to remove obsessional dietary habits on both ends of the spectrum. Teaching financial acumen to get a better understanding of spending and debt. Creating solidarity to push towards a common goal for the betterment of all. Not just the individual desire for the accumulation of assets. Wouldn’t it be preferable to create an environment that isn’t toxic and creates toxic people?

The stark realisation that life is pulling us along has happened during the lock-down. People seem to have found the importance in their family. The unnecessary stress of pursuing someones else goal seems to have lost its appeal. Hours in traffic and on trains masquerading as success seems to be exposed as a waste of time. The trading of mental and physical health for a larger TV seems to have lost its shine. The government begs for people to continue to consume but is there another way? Has the lockdown been the jolt that shakes the many from their automatic thinking? The falling silent of the tills has allowed reality to be heard amongst the usually inaudible wildlife. An addict hits rock bottom, the bump wakes them to the stupidity of the destructive repetition of addiction. The cul-de-sac of consumption has been exposed by the lockdown. The dead-end of repetition. The sacrifice of deep meaning for the pursuit of the trivial. It is shallow. It is empty. It has no meaning other than escapism.

Why did this come about? Surely, humans haven’t always been this way. Or have I hugely misunderstood the concept of the hunter-gatherers? I always assumed they were wandering looking for sustenance. I never considered that they wandered the planet looking to fill a void that they had internally. Maybe that is why religion was created to make people feel whole. As a result, people sought connection externally. Praying to an outside God in the hope of help. People have forgone religion but it has left the void. It also left the externalisation of happiness. The pursuit of contentment in the next thing. Hijacked and monetised, this inferiority has become the driving force in the British economy.

Conformity is ensured through the use of fear to ensure obedience. Not necessarily the fear of physical attack but the fear of being excluded from the group. The fear of admitting fear is the chain that kept me from progressing. Take quitting drinking as an example. One of the first hurdles is the perpetual label of “boring” that comes from breaking away from expectation. It’s almost as if the labels are used as the sheepdog to get any strays back to the flock. Pushing through this barrier is vital to ensure progress. 

Most groups use the same approach. Take the people who claim to be awakened. They are just suckling from a different tit of the same beast. Seeking inclusion and speaking out against the beast. But still identified by the products that are consumed. Image defines the person and the group. The assumption that it is normal because the people surrounding them are doing the same creates a false reality.

Normality is flexible and purely down to perspective. The people who I surrounded myself with normalised my alcohol addiction. Their behaviour matched mine. It was comforting to know I was not alone but it certainly wasn’t fucking normal. Looking outwards for validation is a dangerous habit without moments of reflection. Introspection is a requirement to maintain balance. It is strange how we suppress our intuition in the quest for validation. Almost as if we trust others more than ourselves.

The group keeps us safe. Fear keeps us in groups. Connection brings happiness. The eventual suppression of the self implodes. The devastation results in over-consumption. The group doesn’t give strength it takes it. Without the evolution of emotion through the realisation of reality, we will always remain in a state of regression.

Without critical thought and discourse, there will never be the realisation of the potential of the individual or the group. Progress is made by asking difficult questions of ourselves and our life. Stephen Hawkings once said “philosophy is dead,” yet the western world needs to ask difficult questions now more than ever. The problem with asking? Sometimes we don’t like the answer but that is reality.

Without the capacity to accept, there will always be conflict. The greatest realisation of my life was that “just because I believe something it doesn’t make it true!” My ego will work magic to create the world in my image but that doesn’t make it a reality. Disappointment arises when my external world and expectations collide and don’t align. The only option is to accept that not everything is as I thought. This includes the belief that happiness is a place that resides externally.


Image by Sachu Sanjayan from Pixabay 

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