Things are Thieves of Time

“Focus on the powerful, euphoric, magical, synchronistic, beautiful parts of life, and the universe will keep giving them to you.”

What does it mean to be happy?  Is the answer simple or complicated? I would say it’s both. Simply put, happiness is a choice. Training ourselves to be happy takes a fair amount of self-reflection and desire to progress, and this is where the complications arise. In our society today, finding happiness requires unlearning much of how we were taught to live.

Our culture doesn’t promote genuine happiness as the success that it is. Somewhere along the line we were taught that acquiring boatloads of money and shiny things is the road to ultimate happiness. As Americans we are automatically more financially privileged than most people in the world. In theory, this should make us happy, yet our country is riddled with rampant mental illness and unsatisfaction. Most people in our country have food, water, and shelter, so generally our basic needs are met. These resources are what we physically need to survive and are obviously linked to our potential happiness. In the paradigm we live in, money is a necessity to cover even our most basic needs. However, we are taught that meeting our basic needs isn’t enough; we are taught that we need more and more money to be happy. We start to take for granted the abundance we do have in our lives which causes us to abandon the search for authentic happiness.

Studies released about the correlation between money and happiness demonstrate an interesting pattern in the findings. Research shows that there is a strong positive correlation between money and happiness up until a cap of about a $70,000 annual income. After this point happiness begins to plateau and the level of happiness remains the same, or even decreases a bit, as the yearly average cash inflow increases. This trend continues all the way to the top earnings. From these statistics we see that money does increase happiness up to a certain point but does not grow exponentially with higher earnings. These findings contradict what we are taught in our culture – that the more money we have the more material goods we can buy, and therefore the happier we will be.

Money can buy happiness to some point. Money covers our basic needs, it provides a level of security, and it allows for some freedom from wage slavery. A yearly earning of 70g allows people to meet their needs and then some – they can afford entertainment, vacations, families etc. This amount is very low relative to the stockpiles the 1% keep, but presumably offers the same level of happiness. Now that we know money only buys happiness to a certain extent, what then is the argument for hoarding massive amounts of it- money that could be used to help others tremendously. The accumulation of money is so important to some that they are willing to let people suffer so they can continue their lifestyle. This is disturbing and unhealthy behavior and certainly does not create happiness.

The studies on money and happiness clearly show that having more will not always make us happier. We work our lives away at soulless jobs to buy the bigger house, better car, and newest technology. Yet we barely have time to enjoy our possessions because we’re spending so much time working to pay for them. We correlate our identities and happiness with the caliber of possessions we own. Our culture teaches us that if we want to fit in we must have the trendiest clothing, the nicest car, and the fanciest house that we possibly can. So we consume in hopes that people will notice us. These efforts are futile because no matter what we have there will always be something better. What lies at the root of this behavior is our desire to be accepted and feel like we’re part of a meaningful community. Our propensity for the accumulation of wealth is a convoluted way of expressing our innate human necessity to feel loved by others. This deeply rooted trait of pursuing acceptance and love was integral in our evolution. We needed a community for support and finding food, and we needed to be loved and accepted if we wanted to reproduce. These traits are part of our very core, but now they are exploited and manipulated to encourage us to seek acceptance and community through consumerism rather than through human connection.

The age of wealth, consumerism, and capitalism is coming to an end. We see how poorly they’ve succeeded in making people happy, which is ultimately what we all want. We’ve mistakenly linked our happiness to objects, and we see now how sick our society still is amidst the obsessive consuming. We are looking for happiness in the wrong places. Yes, we are restrained to a certain extent by our paradigm so we do require a certain amount of money to survive. However, we need to see the delusional accumulation of money for what it is, a false pursuit of happiness that often turns into reckless greed. Once we seek happiness in money we create make believe identities. We lose the beautiful and real traits that make us human because we remove ourselves from the true magic of life. When our happiness is rooted in continuously seeking more, then we are never fully satisfied, and therefore never genuinely happy. We stop showing gratitude for the important things when we are working towards more and more, always focusing on the future. We tell ourselves we will be happy when we have this or that, so we forget to be happy in the now.

Our challenge is not to seek more, but to develop the capacity to enjoy less. Once we learn to do this as a culture we will find genuine happiness. When we are authentically happy then we are truly rich. We can live extremely fulfilling lives on much less money than we are taught to believe. Happiness depends entirely on how we think and how we react to the world around us, and it is our choice on how we perceive our experiences. Instead of allowing our happiness to be ruled solely by money and base our identities on our possessions, we need to dust off our forgotten knowledge of true community and love. Our culture encourages separation from one another because we are told we have to be own unique individuals. This kind of thinking creates a social arena of competition – everyone works to be the best, and we define the best as the wealthiest. So instead of curating and flourishing our own personal passions and talents, we are all vying for the common goal of having the most money.

Our current collective mindset is stuck in past ideas but set in the future. We are constantly working towards a point down the line when we believe we will achieve what makes us happy simply because that’s the way were told it’s done. There is always something else we believe we need. So as we are projecting our desires into the future we fall into the vicious cycle of feeling unsatisfied in the present. We look around us and nothing is how we feel it should be, were not happy, were not rich, and were not as thin as those celebrities on TV. Our consumerist culture creates false problems like these in an effort to instill insecurities in us. We work harder to buy more so we can fix those problems that don’t actually exist. As long as we feel we are not good enough, the harder we will work to feel like we are. Our identities should not be defined by the image we project to others through material possessions because then we lose our authentic selves.

Once we slowly unlearn how to define ourselves in our current culture, we can focus on pursuing real and beautiful happiness. We must remember to stay in the present moment, to fully enjoy where we are right now, and make it a place where we are happy to be. Instead of working towards the endless tomorrows of happiness that will never come, let’s work on changing our mindsets to find beauty and happiness in every moment. Showing ourselves constant gratitude for the abundance in our lives is integral to achieving happiness.  Write down one thing you are grateful for each morning and reread your expanding list each day. When we focus on the positive aspects of life we remind ourselves how lucky we are to even be alive. When we focus on the positive aspects of life the universe will continue to provide them. When we see negativity in everything then we are attracting more negative energy from the universe and thus continuing the cycle. We can simply make up our minds to be happy.

Whenever we feel ourselves tumbling into the black hole of negativity, let’s stop, breathe, and remember that we are not defined by our thoughts.  Our thoughts are nothing more than our personal set of filters we’ve created to experience our individual realities. We can change these filters by focusing on the parts of life that make us happy. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to what happens to us. Instead of filling up with anger and frustration when things go awry, acknowledge the situation and move on, and make note of portions to change for the future. Our challenge is to learn how to perceive our thoughts from the outside, accept them as only one portion of our reality, and let them float on by without attaching onto them. The mind is capable of fascinating things and we cannot allow it to manipulate us. We are in control of our thoughts, we are in control of how we perceive the world, and we are in control of our happiness.

Rather than buying the lies of our consumerist culture, let’s search for what we really need. As humans we require love and a sense of community, but we aren’t going to find them in money and material goods. We find them when we learn how to control our thoughts and foster self-love.  We find them when we develop the capacity to enjoy less. Remember that the things we own end up owning us. A line in a documentary (can’t recall which) illustrates this idea perfectly, “understand that things are thieves of time, because the more things you have, the more your life is chained to a rhythm to get those things.” Let’s create a culture that values happiness as wealth, freedom as a necessity, and a loving community as integral to our beings. Once we concern ourselves with what really matters we will no longer desire unnecessary money and possessions and we can pursuit our authentic happiness.

Remember to look around and see the beauty in every day moments. Find what really makes you tick, and fill your life with those things. Focus on the now rather then the later. Surround yourself with happiness by focusing on the positive aspects of life and allow the universe to continue to manifest them.

Kate Townsend

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