In prosperous western cultures divorces are sky-rocketing while in poorer societies families are far more stable. What are the reasons for this phenomenon and what has that got to do with us? Do I have to become poor in order to have a happy relationship, you may ask. Not really, but on the other hand, you may have no choice.
You are aware, I’m sure, that the economy in the U.S. is not exactly at its peak performance and there are undeniable indications that it will get worse, much worse. This time I became painfully aware of the inevitable downfall of our economy. It may not happen tomorrow, but in 5 to 10 years it is inevitable. It may sound like doom-and-gloom, but all the metrics and history point in that direction. Predicting the future is a risky business, but one thing is for certain: we may not become exactly a third world country, but we are certainly moving in that direction. It is happening slowly, so it may not be so obvious. Think of the proverbial frog in water that is getting warmer and warmer until it’s too late. It dies without trying to escape. Denial will not help. If you want to know the reality of the present state of the U.S. economy there is a plethora of literature out there to support it. If you want to read only one book on the subject, try Survival+, Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation by Charles Hugh Smith.
All these years we have been trained by the mainstream media and advertising that the “pursuit of happiness” means procuring material goods and status that in turn will make us happy. In other words, the more we have the happier we will be. The propaganda of consumerism has distorted our inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness, from a structured journey (with the inevitable setbacks) to the fleeting euphoria of a new purchase/ acquisition. We have renounced our title of citizen and embraced the consumer avatar while becoming diffident to the freedom of reality.
In order to prepare for what’s coming and the end of prosperity as we know it (although it will be incremental instead of sudden. Have you started feeling like a frog?), we need to distinguish what it is that really makes us happy. Incidentally, the same things that make us happy turn out to be our best survival technique when the bad times hit.
Numerous studies of the multi-faceted inner sensation we call happiness are largely internal and relationship-based. Common sense suggests that security offered by wealth and income boosts well-being, but studies find additional wealth provides diminishing returns. Beyond a certain relatively low level, additional wealth in any form (cash, goods, travel etc.) offers little improvement in well-being (read: happiness).
This society is promoting possessions, titles, entitlements, and associations with the “rich and famous” as a source of happiness, but personal integrity is essentially meaningless and valueless in the current consumerist frame of reference.
The proliferation of the so-called self-esteem industry is an unrealistic, feel-good marketing ploy as well. Just as marketing purposefully confuses happiness with consumption, so too does the self-esteem industry confuse external metrics and slogans with inner security and well-being, (i.e., you can be, achieve, have whatever you want, imagine, conjure etc.!!) with no mention of the necessary hardship, unpleasant choices, inevitable suffering, and setbacks on the way to success.
Prosperity and “real wealth” cannot be measured by the size of one’s home or range of possessions, but by health, access to FEW (food, energy and water –what we often take for granted), meaningful work and a network of people who care about your well-being.
When the going gets tough, as it surely will, out of the things mentioned above, relationships are the only one factor over which we can have control. We must understand that neither possessions nor titles will make us happy, but rather the relationships we nurture with others. By building healthy family relationships first we will undoubtedly thrive in the face of material scarcity.
Our personal prosperity and the prosperity of our society will largely depend on the true, honest and deep connections we develop with other people and not on what and how much we have. Neither will we be able to rely on the state to provide for us.
In order to start the process of true, honest and deep relatedness, we need to start with building such a relationship with ourselves first. In other words we need to grow up. Peter Pan and Cinderella must be left in the past where they belong and be exchanged for a deep relationship with reality, starting with gratitude for what we have now. No movement is possible without acknowledgment of the reality of the present situation.
The next step is family. First, sort out and complete your relationship with your parents (alive or deceased). Without doing that you cannot be really free in any other relationship. Your partner (husband, wife, etc.) must have, in your mind, the same status as the other members of your family, i.e., your children and your parents. Thinking that you must be “in love” in order to be in a happy and loving relationship is an adolescent concept. Also, there is no substitute to being 100% committed, 100% in integrity, and 100% responsible for your life and your relationship. Learn what love is (hint: it’s not merely a feeling.)*
Your friends and neighbors are next. Learn to give first, without expecting anything in return. It could be anything: a kind word, a compliment, or help, service, material things, food, etc. Share your possessions and life with them. In tough times you can never have enough yourself of what you may need. By sharing what you have will entice the others to give you what you may be lacking. This is how friendship, trust and communities are built. You may need to organize in the future to form businesses, organizations and local governments. Mere schmoozing and networking ain’t gonna cut it. You need to get to know each other on a personal level. You need to break bread with them, sometimes literally.
As you can see, moving from a consumer isolated society into a true community — which seems to be an inevitable step in the next five to ten years — will take some doing if we don’t want to be swept away by the economic hardships that lie ahead. Fortunately, the steps we must take to adapt to changes are the same steps that will bring us happiness, prosperity, and closeness to our family and loved ones.
What do you think?
*Ref.: The Gameless Relationship.