"Who Could Ask for Anything More?"
- springtime in the wilderness -
In his newly-published book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari observes that contemporary people (especially in so-called advanced societies) are almost obsessed with achieving a sense of happiness and well-being in their personal lives. He also notes that, even though there have been tremendous technological, medical and sociological advances over the past years, people today still report that they are unhappy.
People who live in societies like America or Japan or Europe generally have enough food to eat, they don’t die in the streets from uncontrolled diseases and they enjoy many if not most of the “creature comforts” life has to offer; and yet, the suicide rates in these countries is far greater than in poorer nations and it has grown exponentially over the past decades as many people report that they are dissatisfied with their lives.
In his book, Harari suggests that “expectation” is the reason so many of us who are so obsessed with happiness essentially remain unhappy - the more we achieve, the more we expect to achieve. He observes
We become satisfied when reality matches our expectations
The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon.
Dramatic improvements in conditions
such as humankind has experienced in recent decades
translate into greater expectations rather than greater contentment.
It just took a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful.
How do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?
Long ago the Buddha taught that “craving” and “desire” were poisonous to spiritual health and the causes of human suffering and pain. He said:
From craving is born grief.
From craving is born fear.
Desire is the cause of suffering.
When you stop desiring you stop suffering.
Perhaps we all need to heed this ancient wisdom now more than ever in our own contemporary times. When we always “crave” the bigger, better and the newer, the better car, the newer iPhone, the bigger house, the better job, more agreeable neighbors, when we are always desirous of something more, we will inevitably miss the joy of what is
As I see it, when we give up our need to be better than others, when we surrender our need for greater power and more control, when we let go of clinging to our rigid ideas and glib assurances and simply make ourselves available to the experiences of life in service to one another, only then are we ready for happiness to enter into our lives.
A while back I came across something the Dalai Lama once said – a wise and profound observation about why so many people aren’t “happy” nowadays:
Human beings sacrifice their health in order to make money.
Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health.
And then they are so anxious about the future
that they do not enjoy the present.
They live as if they are never going to die
and then die having never really lived.