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In western society what is our perspective on happiness? Customarily our aims to achieve happiness are focused on money, success and material possessions. I am sure you have thought, at one time, “If only I had money, perhaps, won the lottery. I could then buy a better house, faster car and more glamorous clothes”. Britain is richer than ever at present, however, we do not seem to be any happier. Is this possibly because there is no link between complete happiness and money? Some people may believe material possession bring us happiness through a feeling of being accepted.
Sadly in today’s society we are all judged by what we wear, what we own and where we live. This creates social pressure. Subsequently we aim to achieve success and gain material possessions in order to conform to society’s norms and develop a status. Whether we like to admit it or not, the majority will play in the game of keeping up with the Jones’s.
No one enjoys being left behind and if you are not keeping up with the latest technology, style or contemporary item, you are at risk of being excluded from certain groups.
People who are born wealthy still experience unhappiness and also, at times feel excluded because of who they are or what they own. It has also been reported that people who have won the lottery say that after all the excitement of winning has elapsed they overall do not feel any happier than before.
In Nick Hornby’s book How to be Good, an experiment is carried out to link people’s happiness level with their wealth and material possessions. The wealthy participants were asked to share their wealth with people who were less fortunate, like the homeless.
The participants reported that they felt joy, knowing they were helping others, by giving away luxury items that they realised they did not necessarily need, such as their dishwasher and their second car. However, after a period of time, some families reintroduced certain items, not because they were unhappy without them, but because for their lifestyle it was easier to have them. Their happiness level was not affected at all by not having these items; they still laughed at the same things and enjoyed life in the same way.
The only difference was that things were a little more difficult for them. So can we conclude from this that material possessions can only make our lives easier rather than happier? We all have the ability to be happy, regardless of external events or achievements. This is evident when patrons who visit new developing countries, such as Ethiopia, repeatedly report that the children with little or no life chances are expressing happiness in poverty and disease ridden conditions. So does happiness have to be linked to a certain thing or is it just the way we think?
In the international best seller The Art of Happiness by HH Dalia Lama & Howard C. Cutter, the Dalia Lama states that “we don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t even need the perfect body or partner – right now, at this very moment, we have a mind which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness. ” By this he is referring to our mental state as being the prime factor in achieving happiness. Of course that does not deny that our basic physical needs for food, clothing and shelter must be met.
However, if we change our perspective on happiness the difference could be prodigious. The next time we go to the supermarket and feel overwhelmed with the desire to buy the latest contemporary items, or when we feel the urge to upgrade our car for a flashier one, or even a third slice of gateau, we should ask ourselves? “Do I really need this, and will it bring me happiness. ” This prevailing question will enable us to shift the focus from what we are denying ourselves to what we are seeking which is happiness.
Approaching our daily decisions and choices with this perspective allows us to make the right decision because we are acting to gain ourselves happiness rather than withholding something from ourselves. Adopting this perspective also eliminates the pangs of jealousy we receive when someone has more than we do. I have a friend that has a large detached house, two fancy cars and is financially stable. At times I would find myself feeling hard done by, as situations in my life obstructed me from achieving what she has.
I often thought it was unfair, and this would leave me with feelings of unhappiness. By introducing the approach “do I really need it and would it make me happy? ” I have eliminated those unnecessary feelings of unhappiness, as it is not important to me anymore to have such items. Ironically, some in society perceive having the latest technical gadget, coolest designer clothes and fastest car as having achieved happiness. However, for those who can’t afford such items they only add to their money problems, which is a major contributory factor to stress and unhappiness.
Personally I do not believe that material things and money can make you happy. In some cases as previously mentioned certain things can make your life easier but do not change our level of happiness. Focusing on what I do have, rather than what I don’t have, and on, what I do need, rather than what I want or would like, has made me realise that, right now, I am happy. I have a wonderful husband have been blessed with a beautiful daughter, a roof over my head and food in my cupboard. The fundamental things in life will do me.
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