Scroll through your Facebook timeline on any given day and, if you’re anything like me, you’re bound to come across a myriad of inspirational memes and quotes aimed at enlightening you as to how best achieve life-long happiness and fulfilment.
Usually, they go something like this…
Or perhaps this…
Not to forget this…
It’s safe to say that 99.99999% of the time, these memes are aimed at promoting the notion that materialism, accumulation of ‘stuff’ and money in general, are the root of all evils and will inevitably lead to a shallow and miserable life. Read enough of these posters and you could be excused for thinking that if you could only sell all of your material possessions, get the bank to repossess the house and tell your boss to get stuffed, you will automatically achieve spiritual Nirvana.
I’ve got a bone to pick with that.
First of all, for a theory to hold up it needs to withstand the most extreme conditions we could possibly throw its way.
After reading the first poster we should be safe in assuming that homeless people are, by consequence, the happiest people on the planet. After all, they are not burdened with an office job, don’t feel shackled by an expensive home and don’t have to put up with the torture of commuting to work in peak-hour traffic in their brand new car! Oh how ecstatic they must be!
Perhaps not. Whilst I’m sure there are a few blissfully happy bums and beggars, I’ll hazard a guess that they are not in the majority.
Moreover…what about those who actually love their job, their beautiful clothes and their luxury car? What about them? Should we just bunch them all up in an all-encompassing group we shall from now on refer to ‘the shallowest end of the gene pool’ and be done with it? Nope…don’t think that’s quite right either.
So what is it with this complete and utter devotion to degrading materialism in every way possible and branding it the sole contributing factor for the increase in personal discontent in the West?
Well, first of all, the above statement is actually a fallacy. According to all major journalistic reports (including this latest Forbes article) we are not a bunch of miserable gits after all. As prosperity increases in the world’s most modernized countries, so does our ranking in the global happiness index. Wanna see miserable? Move to Chad, the DR of Congo or any other war-torn, disease-ridden or poverty-stricken country; that ought to be enough to convince you that materialism and consumerism is not the evil it is portrayed to be. Quite the opposite in fact.
Spend a bit of time in Africa and you may also come to the same conclusions I did in regards to the third meme, which is that kids are exactly the same the world over. Some are happy, some are not and most (sorry to say) show the not so pretty human trait…greed.
All kids want more than they have; ask any child in Uganda or Kenya what their most fervent desire is and don’t be surprised to hear that, as soon as they are old enough, they will want to move to the UK, meet the Queen, buy a brand new BMW and Rolex gold watch. So your kid is bugging you to buy him/her the latest high-tech gizmo? Nothing to be alarmed about.
The reason why this topic has touched a special nerve with me lately is that I am often asked if I am some kind of an anti-materialist-ambassador. I can certainly understand how the confusion may come about, considering I am abundantly happy with my life and can stuff all my worldly possessions in a duffel bag and two motorbike boxes; yet people are often surprised to hear that the two, for me personally, have actually very little to do with each other.
I know, I know, it’s a shocker. Most of you would expect me to have morphed into some sort of hippie tree-hugging spiritual guru by now, just because I seem to have shunned all materialism aside for a life of freedom and simplicity. Yet what most people don’t realise is that the shedding of material possessions has been more of a practical consequence of long-term travel, not a morally-driven one.
It’s true…most long-term travellers are both happy and owners of not-very-much, yet the real reason behind our lack of material-ness is that a life of constant travel does not lend itself well to the accumulation of ‘stuff’. When all of our funds are being spent on the one thing we love above all else (travel), there isn’t much left to spend on anything else. Besides, even if we did have extra cash to buy ‘things’, we’d have nowhere to put them. Most of us live out of a rucksack and have no home in which to store personal possessions and this is, at the end of the day, the reason behind our minimal ownership. Because we value our freedom of movement, we don’t want to feel ‘tied’ down by a boxful of stuff we never use nor need. It’s really very simple.
Yet when all is said and done, it is worth mentioning that there is an awful lot of stress associated with life in a developed country. Most people work very long hours, mortgage themselves to the eyeballs and have little time, energy and resources left over to enjoy the spoils of their hard work. THIS, in my humble opinion, is the real conundrum.
But re-prioritising and re-evaluating one’s life does not need to be such a drastic affair. Sometimes, happiness will come once we become aware of our actions and our options.
To do this, I will offer anecdotes from what I’ve learnt from almost a decade on the road. Feel free to take from this what suits you best
What is the real truth behind most long-term travellers’ evident happiness?
Contrary to what all those ‘inspirational’ memes will have you believe, the key to lifelong happiness has nothing to do with money or materialism, nor the lack thereof. The whole ‘subject’ of money is so bloody unimportant in the big scheme of things that it doesn’t even deserve a mention. Yes we need money to survive, but making it out to be the saviour or the anti-Christ of life’s ultimate happiness is counter productive. All this does is take the spotlights away from what really counts. This is the reason I believe all the above-mentioned memes are totally useless, unless their aim is to make 90% of the population feel like an absolute failure.
I had a dream…
The reason most long-term travellers are so damn happy most of the time is because they have found a way to fulfil their most ardent passion. We realized and recognized what it is we wanted to do, and we fought tooth and nails to achieve it. What makes me happy is the fact that I am living the life I’ve always dreamed of, not the fact that I own only two pairs of shoes and a decade-old Nokia. Those are mere meaningless incidentals.
Whatever your dream may be, it is easy to lose sight of it once you get caught up in the treadmill of ‘normal life’. It is at this point that one should make a conscious effort to fulfil it. Every dream is valid! Whether it’s to raise children, own a Ferrari by the time you’re 30, climb Mt Everest or build a successful business etc, no-one has the right to tell you that your dream is not worthy.
According to a recent article on RealFarmacy the #1 regret of people on their death beds is that they did not have the courage to chase their most fervent dream. Work towards making this a life priority and all those long-working hours and sacrifices will seem well worthwhile.
Now here is the kind of meme I like to see… (despite the spelling error!)
We are aware of what we are sacrificing…
Being aware of the consequences of each and every decision we make goes a long way in helping us cope with the sacrifices we need to make, in order to achieve our goals. This makes us much happier people.
I won’t sit here bitchin’ and moanin’ about the anorexic state of my bank account, because I know well where all my life-long earnings have gone. They were mostly spent evenly between five continents. Would I like to have more cash in my name? Sure, who wouldn’t! But if that means working more and travelling less then no thanks, I’ll put up with my pauper lifestyle a bit longer.
Likewise, you should decide as soon as possible (if you haven’t already) what constitutes an acceptable sacrifice in your life. If you’re starting to realize that in order to cover your living expenses you are working such long hours that you only get to spend about 5 minutes with your family every week, barely have enough time to have a decent social life and no spare cash to indulge in your hobbies…then yes, perhaps it is time to make a major life change.
Having a nice car, a beautiful home and a wardrobe full of gorgeous clothes is just fine in my humble opinion, as long as you have enough time, energy and resources left over at the end of the day to pursue your dreams and spend quality time with the people you love most. Keeping a healthy and balanced perspective on what’s important will go a long way in helping us all find the sort of contentment we deserve and the right life-balance.
But is there really such a thing?
We know we can’t have it all…
Spongebob, as it turns out, may not be so wrong after all.
To be completely honest with you, the real ‘breakthrough’ in my life came the moment I realized that I simply could not have it all. I know it may sound cliché’, yet I wonder just how many people are still secretly trying to fulfil this unobtainable goal. Speak to any working parent and they are likely to confess to you that their most often-felt sentiment is guilt. More often than not, they feel they are making mistakes and not committing 100% to neither their job nor their child-rearing. They are right of course; one can’t expect to be an all-encompassing success-superhero.
So what’s it gonna be?
No matter what your life situation is, realizing that you can’t possibly achieve everything will go a long way in helping you find contentment. If money is important to you, then you will have to work very long hours and other areas will suffer; if you want more free time then you must accept the fact that you’ll earn a lot less, and live accordingly. Everything is possible, as long as you keep your most ardent desires at the very forefront of each and every decision you make. What will make you happier? Recognize, decide and choose…you’ll be much happier for it, I promise.
Because, at the end of the day…
Like it or not, money’s here to stay: it really makes the world go round and allows us the freedom to live the life we so desire. I need money to travel and live on the road, just like people need money to put food on the table and send their children to school. But what is money anyway? Just a bunch of coloured paper which the world uses to trade goods and services…it’s not evil, it doesn’t have a personality and does not force you into anything you don’t want. So put it in its rightful place, use it to improve and enrich your life and you’ll never again resent its existence.
Materialism VS ultimate happiness?
They ain’t even fighting in the same ring.