What is that particular perversity of human beings that makes many of us so damned miserable most of the time?
You don’t see it in most cats. They curl up, and go to sleep, and they actually purr while sleeping. Most dogs, too, seem so happy to see you, and just curl up on the couch while you’re in the room. You often see a dog curl up and give a huge sigh, as if to say, I’m so happy I could just shit.
Humans? Not so much.
Part of it is probably due to what Sarah Hoyt in her blog today called the sanctification of envy. Everybody is encouraged to be a victim, to blame any pitfalls or shortcomings in their lives on others, to envy those richer, or more beautiful, or more successful.
I hope it goes without saying that this is not the path to happiness.
Many of us seem to think we would be happy if only this happened, or that happened. If we won the lottery. If we got that promotion. If we owned that thing. If we dated/married that boy or that girl. Advertising runs on this idea, the idea that we can’t be happy unless we own this thing. By God, I need to go buy that now. Then I’ll be happy.
In a word, no.
The issue with all of those is that they externalize happiness. Let me demonstrate.
I urge you to perform a little exercise. Take inventory of your own situation. Think of all those things you have, all the gifts you have, all the benefits you have. To help you get started, I’ll give you the start of a checklist.
If you are reading this, you are most likely living in one of the English-speaking countries, most likely the United States. How great is that? (If you were ‘educated’ to think the United States is a terrible country, you might want to get out more.) The standard of living, the level of personal freedom, and the level of charity of one human being for another is greater in the English-speaking countries, and particularly the United States, than any other major country.
If you are reading this, you are literate, you don’t have advanced Alzheimer’s, you have at least enough curiosity and wits to click the link that got you here.
If you are reading this, you have access to the Internet, which gives you access to most of the wisdom and knowledge the human race has amassed over the eight thousand or so years we’ve been writing things down. Oh, sure, there’s a lot of crap, too, but sifting through it all is part of the game.
Figure in your health, too. I’ll be sixty-five in July, my back has been a problem for over thirty years, I had a heart attack two years ago, necessitating some re-piping of the innards, and I have to wear compression socks so my legs don’t turn into balloons. And I have my share of the aches and pains of increasing age. But, and it’s a big but, I got up this morning — always a plus — I can see pretty well, my hearing is good, I still have all my wits about me. I have lost dear friends too soon, and others are wrestling with far greater problems than mine. All in all, I’m doing pretty well. How are you doing, healthwise? When taking inventory, don’t add up the negatives. Add up the positives.
Did you have a warm place to sleep last night? Do you have enough food to eat? Are you sheltered from the wind and rain? That puts you ahead of the vast bulk of the human race throughout its history, and much of the world even now. The poorest people in the United States live in luxury compared to the royalty of only a hundred and fifty years ago. Don’t believe me? Well, grab a cold pop out of the fridge, or warm up a snack in the microwave, and think it over.
Do you have a few good friends? I mean, really good friends? The kind that you can call at three in the morning to bail you out of jail or help you change a flat, and they don’t even think twice about coming to your aid? Ponder that.
Is there another human being who loves you? Just one — let’s not be greedy. Is there someone who cares about you so deeply that your happiness and well-being is essential to their own? If so, how truly rich you are.
Having taken such an inventory, do you feel any better? Happier? More content? You should consider that this inventory and the little checklist I proposed had two important qualities: 1) it concentrated on you, not your neighbor, was not a comparison, or an exercise in envy; and 2) it concentrated on things that were important.
I will part with a saying that has become something of a cliche:
Happiness comes from within.
And it begins with gratitude for what you have.