On Quora someone asked: “If you could whisper one thing into everybody’s ear to make them happier, what would you say to them?”
Some of the answers seemed to make false promises (“I will zap all pain away”) or offered perky reassurance (“you’re doing great”). But, is happiness just about raising a smile for a second? Is it only about feeling less pain for a moment?
I’m getting a bit predictable perhaps — I of course went deeper with my answer to this question. With my whisper, I sought to turn over the machines of evaluation, so that the person I whispered to would find their own happiness long after the whisper fell silent.
The immediate effect wouldn’t be happiness for most, but I’d tell them “You have more control over your experience than you think. Way more!”
If happiness is about the journey, rather than any particular destination, then it’s critical that you’re able to find your own path—to be able to take your own action, and steer your own way.
As we age through childhood and further through adulthood, we tend to conform more and more to society in its various shapes and forms. This is a natural and necessary part of us being social creatures. It is so ingrained in us, because it carries many benefits to us as individuals.
But there are downsides to conformity. When we allow social norms to dictate what we think and how to respond to the world, we are surrendering our ability to make up our our own minds. At some point you’re no longer walking your own path, are no longer the originator of your own creative thoughts, you are just following “herd mentality” or the “hive mind”.
When that happens, it is no longer me choosing when and how to seek happiness, but someone else (most likely a guy in a suit pocketing a gazillion dollars a second) who is feeding it to me…with a price-tag.
Until social media came along, ads and marketing was perhaps the most glaring example of a mechanism designed to build dependency—consumers steered to begin depending on a brand or product to decide if they’re happy or not, and when and how they’re allowed to feel happy. But similar phenomona is found in education systems, politics, family units, sports teams and social media. (Zuckerberg admitted in court some months ago that Facebook’s business goal is make users’ sense of happiness dependent on Facebook feeds).
To take away the power away from news media, social media, politicians, and corporations in deciding your fate, you need to start remembering that you’re a fully-fleshed living idendity that doesn’t NEED them; connected, but singular; individual, but collective.
The workshop we ran for this took a whole weekend, because the full impact of this realisation takes a bit to sink in. But you can begin re-appraising your position in the world right now. Sure, reading about federal politics in the morning paper might ruin your morning for a while, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you don’t have the last say in what motivates you.
So, what could you whisper to yourself to find happiness, not just for the moment, but for life?