In the coming year, take it easy and get back to the basics

Close relationships are important for emotiona...
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Someone reading the Division by Zer0 the last few days (weeks? months?) might get the impression that I’m a generally angry or aggressive person who constantly rants about Capitalism or ignorance and whatnot. The truth is that lately I’ve been indeed writing quite a bit on subjects which annoy me, as the more I learn the more I notice people writing things that are obviously (to me) wrong.

So for my first post of the new year I thought I might go to a more positive subject.

Until now we’ve been living in an era of unprecedented consumption and instant gratification. New gadgets every month, huge TVs with thousands of programs, Vacations on exotic locations and the like. This has not been the case for everyone in the world of course but for those of us lucky to be living in the developed nations, life has been overall good.

However 2009 is promising to bring interesting times to everyone in the world, and part of that is going to certainly include such economic upheavals that belts will have to be tightened (to say the least). Especially in the US where a luxurious lifestyle has been propped up on massive debt, the impossibility of receiving more of it will mean that part of what was considered normal before will have to be reduced. No more new video-games every week, no more new ipods every year, reduced night-clubbing, music albums, drugs etc. All the things which in the past, rather than reduce, people preferred to work (much) more and get more in debt in order to afford.

But what people don’t understand is that all these things are not in the least necessary to live a happy life. While being able to have a new iphone might be a nice way to impress other or play with new technology, is it really worth working 1 extra hour per day for? Luxuries such as this will only bring you joy only for a very small amount of time but putting oneself in debt or working extra hours more than counters any such fleeting hapiness.

We can easily look at the things which bring us happiness and see also how much “pain” we need to go through to achieve them. If you put these things in a scale, you should be able to see if they are worth it or not. You will quickly figure out that the more luxurious the things which make us happy are, the more geometrically the pain increases and the less we get to enjoy them.

If the only thing that makes me happy is visiting exotic locations where I can be served on day and night, it means that not only will I have to get a good position in a job but that I will have to work long hours so that I may achieve a few days of such a vacation a year. In the end, I spend a whole year being miserable and a few days being happy. The example might seem extreme but it serves to show what the obvious correct action for this problem would be. It wouldn’t be either to get a better position, or work harder, or even get a debt for it. It would be to stop having only this type of vacation as the source of one’s happiness.

We have a very good thing going in our favour as humans: We are social. That means that interacting with other humans, forming friendships, having conversations and the like is treated by our evolved psychology as a very rewarding experience. A meaningful discussion can last many hours and in the end we will probably come out more satisfied than staying home and watching soap operas. In a similar way, playing the same video game with friends can be much more fun and last much more than buying 4 different ones in the course of one month. I still remember how in my youth I used to play the same ones, on my crappy machine, Mortal Kombat 1 and Micro Machines 2, with two of my best friends and we continued playing them much longer than usual simply because of the fun we had together. To this day, no other video game has given me as much satisfaction for such a long time as those two.

And the best thing about friends, especially in a Capitalist society, is that our friends are free. Not only are they free, but once you have them, it does not matter what kind of activity you do with them. It’s almost certain to be enjoyable. And that includes even activities which are cheap. Money problems prevent you from having a plasma TV and a Playstation 3? You can have fun by playing athletic games. Can’t go on vacation in Ibiza? Grab your friends and go free camping in the mountain or something.

Our popular culture has been struggling to convince us that happiness hides behind more and more accumulation of (expensive) toys, beauty and general luxury. This year then (and possibly the following) promise either to make a lot of people miserable, or to make them realize that they’ve been lied to. I hope all people reading this will belong to the later group.

All you need to do is realize that the specifics of your hobbies are not so important in your overall happiness. If you can’t afford your gadget “addiction”, you can always switch to something that requires less pain to achieve. Once this capability is realised, a world of options becomes open to us and we can survive any difficult situation with laughter in our hearts.

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