“Long-Term Happiness versus Short-Term Happiness”
You know of the disease in Central Africa called sleeping sickness. First its victims get slightly tired, then the disease gradually intensifies until the afflicted person lies asleep all the time and finally dies from exhaustion.
There also exists a sleeping sickness of the soul. Its most dangerous aspect is that one is unaware of its coming. That is why you have to be careful. As soon as you notice the slightest sign of indifference, the moment you become aware of the loss of a certain seriousness, of longing, of enthusiasm and zest, take it as a warning. You should realize that your soul has suffered harm.
Your soul suffers if you live superficially. People need times in which to concentrate, when they can search their inmost selves. It is tragic that most people have not achieved this feeling of self-awareness. And finally, when they hear the inner voice they do not want to listen anymore. They carry on as before so as not to be constantly reminded of what they have lost. But as for you, resolve to keep a quiet time both in your homes and here within these peaceful walls when the bells ring on Sundays. Then your souls can speak to you without being drowned out by the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
— Albert Schweitzer, abridged from pp. 77-81 of “Reverence for Life” (from a sermon he preached Palm Sunday, April 4, 1909, at the afternoon service at St. Nicolai’s Church. More of the sermon can be found here.)
We live in a culture where we can try to shop, booze, numb, distract, spectate, consume our way to happiness. But all of the happinesses we find through shopping, eating, drinking, smoking, reading or watching fluff—by trying to tranquilize (or get ourselves temporarily high) on these distractions—are very fleeting happinesses. Shopping and buying something new usually only makes us happy for a brief time. After we’re done trying to numb or temporarily elate ourselves with sex or drink or power or buying and selling, our problems are still there. We still are who we are.
“[E]very man speculates upon creating a new need in another in order to force him to a new sacrifice, to place him in a new dependence, and to entice him into a new kind of pleasure and thereby into economic ruin. Everyone tries to establish over others an alien power in order to find there the satisfaction of his own egoistic need. With the mass of objects, therefore, there also increases the realm of alien entities to which man is subjected. Every new product is a new potentiality of mutual deceit and robbery. . . . Every product is a bait by means of which the individual tries to entice the essence of the other person, his money. . . . The entrepreneur accedes to the most depraved fancies of his neighbor, plays the role of pander between him and his needs, awakens unhealthy appetites in him, and watches for every weakness in order, later, to claim the remuneration for this labor of love. . . . Man becomes increasingly poor as a man. . . . The less you are, the less you express your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life. . . .” — Karl Marx, in Erich Fromm’s book, “Marx’s Concept of Man”
The only way out of this cycle of distraction and dissipation, addiction and alienation, is the path inwards.
“We have a largely materialistic lifestyle characterized by a materialistic culture. However, this only provides us with temporary, sensory satisfaction, whereas long-term satisfaction is based not on the senses but on the mind. That’s where real tranquility is to be found. And peace of mind turns out to be a significant factor in our physical health too.”
– Dalai Lama, from his Facebook status update, Wed Sept. 18, 2013, 5:29am
We live in a largely materialistic culture that bombards us near-constantly via advertising, billboards, neon signs, et cetera, with options intended to provides us with only very temporary, sensory satisfaction. Long-term satisfaction and happiness, however, are not based on perpetually indulging and gratifying the senses. Rather, they are based on developing the mind, i.e.: developing and deepening and correcting our thinking, addressing and removing our biases and distortions, acknowledging and even facing our fears, developing our courage and wisdom and understanding, increasing our ability to see ourselves and others in a compassionate and empathetic way (that we might see deeper than the harsh and off-putting and even hurtful exterior and see the hurting interior), letting go of anger and resentment and increasing our ability to forgive, practicing gratitude and appreciation, and trying to be more patient and kind with ourselves and others. That’s where real satisfaction and tranquility are to be found.
from Humans of New York, September 11, 2013
“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“Try your best to deal with life without medicating yourself.”
“You mean drugs?”
“I mean drugs, food, shopping, money, whatever. I ain’t judging anybody, either. I was hooked on heroin for years. But now I’ve learned that every feeling will pass if you give it time. And if you learn to deal with your feelings, they’ll pass by faster each time. So don’t rush to cover them up, or you’re never gonna learn.”
“Our entire life has been training. The question is: training in what? This question means: training in which direction? If we train ourselves to reach for a snack or pick up the phone to text-message whenever we feel frightened or bored, this is definitely training. The next time we feel uncomfortable we will also tend to reach for some comfort outside ourselves, eventually establishing a deeply ingrained habit, another brick in the wall of our mental prison. Are we training in how to distract ourselves from inner discomfort or anxiety? Are we training in numbing ourselves in the face of fear, or training in waking up? Training in opening the heart, or training in shutting down?” – Gaylon Ferguson, “Fruitless Labor” (from http://mindfulbalance.org/2013/09/20/training-the-heart/)
To really develop our capacity to meaningfully love another/others and ourselves requires that we forego trying to tranquilize and numb and dissipate ourselves, that we cease trying to in one form or another consume our way to happiness, and instead get to work developing and deepening ourselves, improving our wisdom and understanding and compassion and courage. People who continually try to consume their way to happiness are likely not capable of real love—they are capable of affection, some warmth and kindness, even feelings of romantic love and limerance, but they are not capable of loving another (or even themselves) in a way that is stable, sustainable, durable and healthy.
“[Y]ou can see that basically our lives are, to a large extent, spent avoiding confrontation with ourselves. And then you can begin to make sense of the enormous amount of our culture’s daily activities, which attempt to distract us from ourselves, from deep reflection, from deep thinking, from existential confrontation. There’s a wonderful phrase by the philosopher Kierkegaard, ‘tranquilization by the trivial.’ And I think our culture has mastered this better than any culture in history, simply because we have the wealth and means to do so.” – Roy Walsh, psychiatry professor, as quoted in “The Search For Meaning,” by Phillip L. Berman
“The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb. When you are fully alive you are constantly saying “No” to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interest of society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed-out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions like an addict.” – Anne Wilson Schaef, When Society Becomes an Addict (from http://mindfulbalance.org/2013/09/06/22491/)
People trying to constantly numb and tranquilize themselves will find great difficulty in loving another or even themselves, because to love deeply and meaningfully requires honesty, courage, work, effort, and facing difficulty and reality (meaning our existential lot) instead of trying to shy away from it or avoid it.