I’m convinced that being able to recognize the difference between what I ‘need’ and what I ‘want’ is one of the major lessons I’m intended to learn in life. Necessitated by dozens of moves over the years, I’ve been forced to weed out material possessions that carry little personal significance or practical use. Those choices haven’t always been easy, of course, but I’ve found the exercise of possession-purging (repeatedly) to be very freeing.
Buddhist teachings often cite ‘craving and attachment’ as the root of all suffering, and I must admit I agree. Of course, humans also crave non-materialistic things such as sex, drugs, alcohol, fame and power, but in the USA and many emerging economies like those in the Arabian Gulf the materialistic craving for everything from the latest model electronics to cheap plastic goods appears to be insatiable.
From my experience, Westerners tend to complain about their lives and openly ‘seek’ happiness far more than those living in the developing world.
Am I happy today? Do I think I’m happier at this point in my life than I was when I was younger? Am I worried about how declining health as I age will affect my ability to be happy? What does happiness really mean to me anyway?
Ah, yes, happiness; that illusive commodity that we spend so much of our time pursuing by reading self-help books, attending workshops and seminars, going to private counseling/therapy sessions and in conversation with our closest friends.
Although many individuals and organizations have repeatedly tried to quantify this state of being by releasing an annual happiness index, the results have been unconvincing.
In her statistical analysis of happiness in various regions of the world, author Carol Graham sums up the difficulty of drawing conclusions about well-being based on Western points of reference in the title of her book “Happiness Around the World: the paradox of happy peasants and miserable millionaires.”
So, if happiness isn’t a product of prosperity, then what does create this much sought-after state of being?