We live in a world where clearly it seems that the majority of us have lost our way. This is in no small part attributed to how we think we should go about being happy.
On a daily basis we are encouraged to believe that we should be happy immediately and in all moments. There are a variety of gadgets and experiences you can buy that are advertised in such a way as to make you believe that instant happiness will result after you consume them. While you might feel happy for a time, it is rarely long lasting, and thus the cycle of buying continues.
As someone who has taught hundreds of teenagers, this misguided belief that we should be enjoying ourselves at all times in order to be happy, is rampant among our youth. As teachers we are at odds with what parents are doing at home; parents may be trying to provide their children with constant enjoyment and distraction since this is what their children demand and teachers are trying to encourage students to develop focus, discipline and thought in order to achieve goals and develop knowledge beyond their imaginings.
I certainly believe that part of our problem stems from the promise of religion. When times were different and life was a very physical struggle, the promise of an everlasting life where you had to do nothing but enjoy yourself with the people you loved must have sounded tantalising. When rest and relaxation didn’t exist for the working classes, a promise of eternal relaxation and joy might have been worth believing in.
But for me, the thought of sitting around in paradise for eternity is not at all enticing, in fact, it makes me want to scream. I mean honestly, how boring would it be? Doing nothing, all the time. Being reunited with the people you knew. What would you even have to talk about? What about the joys and challenges of meeting new people?
This belief that eternal enjoyment is desirable might have worked once upon a time to keep the dissent and unrest amongst the working class at a minimum. Now it’s become a matter of thinking we should have and deserve to have eternal enjoyment here and now.
In fact the real truth is that what we humans enjoy most of all is the feeling that comes with extending ourselves and accomplishing something worthwhile. It is a deep feeling that cannot be gained by spending a life lazing by a pool.
It usually takes me a school term to convince the majority of my students that a sense of accomplishment and the realisation of one’s potential is what life’s all about. A few will stubbornly resist, and that’s fine by me. My students don’t learn this by me telling them it is so. Under my direction, and often reluctantly, they start to turn their focus to working hard and achieving success. I set the path and guide them forward and encourage those who can to forge ahead and those who are struggling to trust me. Soon each student is focussed on their own best efforts and they never stray for long. They probably aren’t able to articulate at the end of the year why they feel the way they do. Many often mistakenly feel that it’s because of me that they enjoyed the class so much, and as flattering as that is, I know it’s because of the huge sense of accomplishment they have experienced.
There’s nothing like looking back on a year of success and knowing you achieved it through hard work and focus.
There’s nothing like seeing how much you’ve grown and how much more you now know and understand.
There’s nothing like realising that you have spent your time well and have discovered new opportunities.
There’s nothing like seeing your own potential come to fruition and realising your worth and intelligence as a human being.
Each of us has evolved to want to discover and understand. If this wasn’t our true nature we’d never walk or talk. Why would we bother to try and communicate or develop our fine and gross motor skills unless we wanted to be more fully involved in our world?
You might be like most of my students on the first day of Term 1, waiting for life to be handed to you and hoping nothing much will be asked of you, yet at the same time hoping for a feeling that you can’t describe. Instead you search for fun at every opportunity, no matter how pointless or frivolous. You might already acknowledge that fun doesn’t last beyond the moment. As a solution to this you might try to buy more and more fun into your life. Eventually you’ll realise that this isn’t sustainable and you’ll be tempted to wallow in despair and depression.
Instead, set your sights on personal accomplishments. Perhaps start with achieving greater physical strength and fitness. Turn your attentions to growing your own food. Become fluent in that language that you speak a little. Have a firm understanding of the last 100 years of our world history. Understand the mysteries behind the software that you love to use and program your own. Make your own fashion.
The list goes on forever and requires only a little imagination and a bit of intuition. Recall the last time you felt really accomplished. It might be back somewhere in your student days. Remember also how long lasting that feeling was and what it would be like to feel that way again.
Go on, accomplish something today, this week and this