Happiness Isn’t What They Tell You
“Happiness! See our picturesque beach wedding? Look how happy we are! Jealous? If you had a hot bride and a Lambhorghini you’d be happy too! All you need to do is BUY DIAMONDS!”
Seen an ad like this recently? I have. What about this:
“Are you miserable, sitting on your couch eating Cheetos? Wishing you had a rockin’ bod and a supermodel washing her bikini top on your rock-hard abs? You need to attend the SOULFOOD ULTIMATE POWER STADIUM HAPPINESS AWESOME BUSINESS EXTRAVAGANZA!” ($6000).
Dave from Idaho: “I was living in a shack that was halfway underwater, in the middle of a river! I ate mud, because I was too lazy to cook. Then I saw (self-improvement guru’s) ad on TV, advertising the S.U.P.S.H.A.B.E! I borrowed the $6000 from my mom, and thanks to (pasty-named strong-jawed charismatic success robot), I now live in a house made of gold and I am SO MUCH HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE RIGHT NOW!
Is this what we really want? Why do we idolize these people, then fork over tons of money to have them feed us basic pop psychology so that if we succeed, we can end up as a testimonial on their stupid b-roll footage?
Because happiness in western culture is an industry first, and an emotion second.
Imagine that you’re in this industry. You’ve achieved the life of a self-help guru, and thousands of people follow you around to drool over your words, hoping they can catch contagious success from you.
Do you, as the guru, want all of these people to become happy after a few hours with you? Of course not! Then you’d have no repeat customers! You need to have layers of courses and trainings and retreats, each more fancy-sounding than the last (Ultra Platinum Level success, anyone?)
It’d be the same if you were running a beauty magazine. You need to keep people trying and buying, not to actually make people feel beautiful. If everyone felt content with how they looked after reading your magazine, they wouldn’t need you anymore.
A guru who’s packing stadiums doesn’t care about you personally. If you succeed in life, great! They can slap you on the website as a testimonial. If you don’t succeed, you can buy tickets to their next event.
These events have largely shut down because of the pandemic, but as things open back up, self-help gurus are going to be on the prowl again. Be ready.
All advertising is built on a simple formula, aimed at your dissatisfaction:
- You currently don’t have this product/service, loser!
- Your life would be better if you did.
This diamond will fix and deepen your relationship with your wife! These running shoes will magically make you fit! This course will make you a successful businessperson!
All of those things are possible, but not because of shiny rocks or the latest cutting-edge fancy foam laced to your feet. They are possible because of you. You can deepen your relationships. You can start a successful business. And it doesn’t take forking over $6000 to a charismatic speaker who understands the power of positive group psychology.
Advertising has been a part of your life since you opened your eyes. There were tags on the diapers you wore, logos on the bottles you drank from, and labels on the baby food you ate. As you grew, you were exposed to toy ads, either on TV or through the word-of-mouth advertising of the neighbor kid who had the MacMegaMan that you didn’t have.
You’ve been taught to be discontent since you were a baby. This is what the happiness industry preys on.
You are never going to be happy at all times. But you also don’t have to feel hollow, chasing the happiness carrot on a stick that’s always just out of reach. What advertisers and gurus call happiness is overrated. It’s fleeting moments of euphoria. If our brains were flooded with dopamine all the time, we’d starve to death in a puddle of our own drool.
What we need to seek is contentment. The feeling of “I’ve had enough chocolate” or “this sunset with the woman I love is delightful” or even “grass is nice.”
“But I’m a high achiever!” You might be shouting at your screen. “If I start slowing down and feeling content, I might stop hustling 24/7! What about the grind?
First of all… Stop yelling. Secondly, you don’t have to devote every waking moment of energy towards a future that you’re going to hate when you get there because you’ve never learned to appreciate anything. You can have enough and eat it, too!
We’ve been taught not to be content because our contentment isn’t profitable. Feeling like you have enough in your life doesn’t put corporate balance sheets in the black.
Because we’ve been taught to focus on what we don’t have, many of us in the western world never experience abundance, but if you live in a waterproofed house and you have groceries for the next week? You are living on a mountain of abundant luxury that most people in human history would have killed for.
When you’re living a contented life, you know this.
Happiness is not waiting in a diamond or a new truck. If you want to be happy more often, focus on deepening your contentment and doing more of the challenging things you love. Happiness is a byproduct of a fulfilling life, not a destination you can map to.
In the end, stuff and money are just dust.
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