Judging by the enthusiasm so many people have towards certain reality shows (which we can hopefully agree on, don’t require a great deal of intellectual effort from the viewer), or for shows about Hollywood celebrities for instance, I’d say these are two perfect examples of activities “to pass time” as I referred to in the previous article of this series entitled “The Utopia of Modern Happiness”. Whether it’s to keep track of the minute details surrounding the lives of the celebrities we cherish or to witness people “who have it even harder than us, who are worse than us”, this exercise of passiveness comforts some in their misfortune and gives hope to others. (You will notice here that I did not state that this approach brings us the much-desired happiness we seek, as it merely acts as a balm that needs to be reapplied night after night, show after show.) Consequently, if this approach solves nothing, why do the lives of others fascinate us so much?
The envy of those who have
We often mistakenly believe that those who possess more than us (money, material goods, etc.) are necessarily happier. And although the French saying « L’argent ne fait pas le bonheur, mais ça aide en maudit » which can be translated into “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it surely helps” may prove partially true, we must acknowledge that it is easier to be happy when we have no worries (monetary, material, health or otherwise). Yet, obtaining more money (too much of it) can inadvertently also bring sorrow. Being envious gives the impression that there is a void within us and, moreover, it can prevent us from appreciating what we already have.
When I visited a Maasai tribe during a trip to Kenya, not in a staged tourist context, but rather an impromptu visit amid their everyday life, I noticed that a superb joie de vivre emanated from these villagers. And while they had nothing in practical terms compared to the standards of our so-called civilized society, they all wore a huge smile to greet me. Delighted and pleased to see me, they even offered to share the little they had with me and invited me for a meal. It dawned on me that so far from the rest of civilization, these people were truly appreciating what they had: a few cow-dung huts, a few goats, a flock of children, but above all the presence and existence of each one of them for one another; with one another. For them, not comparing themselves to anyone, they were probably never missing out on anything.
But how about those people we imagine happier than we are? Think of all the clowns of this world who behind their masks hide a well concealed, deeply buried despair. How surprised and saddened was I to learn that Robin Williams, seemingly everyone’s friend, always laughing, always a joke up his sleeve, had taken his own life. Didn’t he possess everything to be happy? Would we’ve been right to envy him in light of what we now know about his reality?
And what about Facebook where everyone tries to surpass one another by displaying only the beautiful sides of their lives? Rare are those who actually post about their miseries, their unhappiness. Almost everything seems beautiful on Facebook, but is it really? (It’s worrying to consider that some even go so far as to draw the totality of their self-esteem from their virtual reality, the number of friends they have on Facebook or the number of “Likes” they get on one of their comments. Failing to build genuine success, real personal life success based on actual accomplishments, Facebook gives them a sense of notoriety, a false self-esteem, by all means artificial.) Recognizing that the lives of others may not be as rosy as they suggest is precisely why wishing their lives upon us or being envious of them may prove to be foolish.
Relief knowing there are those with less or who are worse off than us
Reality television series abound. Either you’re the worst driver, hoping not to be the worst among those taking part of the show, either you’re the most overweight person, hoping to lose more weight than any other participant. Worse still, there are those so-called real-life situation shows (which we agree are far from real), where sometimes the best, more often the worst in each candidate is what will make gossip headlines the next day and ultimately improve ratings. In the end, rather than taking control of our lives, we are comforted by the idea that there are those worse than us.
This type of entertainment which could even be construed as “voyeurism” is not only wasteful of the little time we have on this earth (everything is relative I’ll admit), but is also unhealthy because it doesn’t address the unhappiness that may inhabit us.
Thus, such as in the conclusion of my first article, “The Utopia of Modern Happiness”, I believe that happiness, true happiness, is a state of mind that can only be found within us. It is not accessible through comparison with others or by living vicariously through others.
I therefore invite you to keep reading this series of four articles as they get published and which will conclude with the one entitled “Happiness is within you and nowhere else” where I’ll describe the path towards true happiness.