Everyone is forecasting the largest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. There are many similarities. The news, government and it seems most people think this is an attack on the American Dream, our pursuit of happiness and that our lives will not be worth living. They focus only on the bottom two levels of Abraham Maslow's pyramid and equate this with happiness. My thesis for this post is that hard times makes us stop and try to figure what is true happiness as opposed to the propaganda spread by social scientists, government experts and advertising agencies.
The Great Depression and perhaps today are the two most significant times in the last century that the physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, clothing), and safety needs (protection from crime, loss of income and/or retirement, health care) have been in serious jeopardy for a significant portion of the general population. Natural disasters like hurricanes, fires and earthquakes hit only an isolated area. Economic depressions hit the country (even the world) as a whole, thus having greater impact. In all of these tragedies there is loss of life, and great pain. This also produces great soul searching. People step back from the rat race, ask themselves if losing their house, car, furniture, etc. is really the end of the world?
In time all material things lost due to these circumstances, though missed, can be replaced. And when they look at how much energy and effort went into the accumulation of all they lost thinking that these things would make them happy they realize how foolish they'd been.
- Happiness is not a house, or a car, or expensive clothes. This only covers steps 1 & 2 of the pyramid.
- Happiness is not to be found in a job. Again this covers steps 1 & 2.
- Happiness is not found in the family. Steps 3, 4 & 5 all have to do with love, togetherness, emotional well being, accomplishment, serenity. Things we all need. Happiness, but just because we need it does not make for happiness.
- Happiness is not to be found in Religion or running away from it all. Sidharta Guatama (The Buddha) chose enlightenment over temporary fame, chose poverty in order to focus on his mind and spirit. In Christianity those who retreated to monasteries or convents chose a small cell and meager food to devote their lives to prayer and meditation. Others chose a life of helping and serving others. Other religions have similar practices of either escape or altruism. Giving up steps 1 & 2 and 3 to focus on steps 4 & 5 doesn't mean you'll be happy either.
For me, happiness is balance, completion, striving to reach a goal no matter if its ever reached. The good times are always the ones where you are climbing the hill not coasting down it. When you're coasting down it's easier to appreciate the good times than when you're focused on going up the hill.
I like the visual of Maslow's pyramid. Happiness, what he calls self-actualization is not connected to the pyramid, it's removed and sits above. Is it possible to be happy and have little or none of the other parts of the pyramid -- yes. Is it possible to be happy and have all of the pyramid -- yes.
In summation in good economic times people get caught up in the acquisition of material possessions thinking this will make them happy. Hard economic times, disasters, or tragedies make us take stock of things that have real value not just monetary value. Real value like real happiness is unique to each individual. Read the Beatitudes, Jesus chose as blessed (happy) those society thought would be most miserable. Society can only use Maslow's bottom two steps as an indicator for happiness which is a pretty lousy yard stick.
Each person has to figure out for themselves what makes them happy. This is a time where there's a collective "gut check." It's a time to be enjoyed, savored, appreciated not feared. It's a time to learn what really matters in life and focus on that instead of possessions.