You are living in a dangerous cult. I mean it. Of course, like most people in cults, you don’t think it’s dangerous—or that it’s even a cult. This “cult” that you (and I) are living in is the hyper capitalist economic system of modern day life.
In this cult or cult-ure we’re part of, we’re hypnotized to believe certain things that are not really true. For example, we’re conditioned to believe that if only we had more money, or the right relationship or less wrinkles—THEN we’d be a lot happier. Studies prove that these ideas aren’t actually true, but we eventually start to believe them because we’re constantly bombarded with such messages.
Here’s a question that can determine if you’ve truly been indoctrinated into the capitalist cult. Which of these two options do you think would make you happier? Option one: winning over a million dollars in the lottery. Option two: becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Which do you think would lead you to being happier after a year of time has passed?
If you think the obvious answer is winning the lottery, you’re wrong. It means you’ve bought our cult’s basic dogma—that what happens to you determines your level of happiness. Although such a notion is widespread and unquestioned in Western culture, scientific research does not bear this idea out. People who are paralyzed and people who win the lottery are equally happy after a year of time has passed.
In the search for happiness that we are all on, you can’t assume anything that you’ve heard. Unfortunately, our culture is constantly pushing its ideas about finding the “good life” onto us, and that brainwashing does not necessarily have anything to do with being happy. After all, does Donald Trump look joyous to you? In the last twenty years, the average GDP of Chinese citizens has gone up 400%, and yet their average level of happiness has actually gone down.
In our culture, we’ve also been led to believe that having a lot of choice is a good thing. There are over 24,000 items to choose from just in your local supermarket. With the Internet, our range of choices has become virtually infinite. The problem is we’ve been led to assume that the more choices we have, the richer and more satisfying our lives will become. Yet, numerous studies show that our gluttony of choice mostly just adds to our level of stress–and makes us less contended with our lives.
In fact, contrary to cult doctrine, having a lot of money, good health, or a job you enjoy doesn’t truly lead to happiness. Rather, research shows that we have it completely backwards. Numerous studies indicate that it is being a happy person that leads to having more money, good health and a job you enjoy. Highly fulfilled people end up making over $750,000 more during their lifetime than people who are unhappy. Highly contented people also live an average of 8 years longer than the rest of us, and have half the level of divorce.
If the specifics of our lives (money, health, job, choice) don’t determine our level of happiness, what does? Researchers have identified several factors. First, part of our happiness is determined by our genetics. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about that. Yet, much of our level of well-being is due to our attitude, our focus on relationships, and certain beliefs and behaviors that happy people tend to have. Fortunately, many of these attitudes and behaviors can be easily learned.
Here’s just one example. Highly contented people tend to schedule time each week for activities they truly enjoy. On the other hand, unhappy people tend to make excuses as to why they don’t have time for what they really like to do. Here’s another example. Happy people make being with friends and enjoying life a central priority in their life, whereas less contented folks make things like making money their main priority.
Here’s the problem. How do you become a happy person while living in a cult (culture) that does not value what really leads to happiness? It’s hard. It requires going against the grain of what the people around you are doing. It means you need to ignore the 500 or so advertising messages you get each day, and instead listen to the still, small voice inside. In fact, that’s what happy people do a lot. They spend quiet time in nature. They surround themselves with people, books, and ideas that nurture their dream of a joyful, caring, and deeply fulfilling life.
Like you, I was conditioned to think that certain things would make me happy. For better or worse, I got many of those things at an early age. I got rich. I wrote books that got me on Oprah and other national shows on numerous occasions. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, I felt like I always had to do something bigger and better in the future. I was not a happy camper. There was only one way out—and that was “in.” As I studied the research on happiness, I learned that everything I’d been taught about how to be happy was basically not true.
It turns out that the American Dream is actually a repetitive, busy, and not too unpleasant nightmare. I soon realized that always striving for more, always being busy, and constantly competing for recognition was not a path to greater peace of mind. As I began to see through the brainwashing of Western culture, I began to notice what really made me happy. What really made me happy wasn’t having bouncy hair, a big house, or a Mercedes. It ends up it was little moments of depth and joy I could find in everyday life. Nowadays, I spend more time playing with my dog, watching sunsets, hanging out with my friends, reading great books, and meditating.
So your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to find out what actually makes you uniquely happy. Assume you’ve been in a dangerous cult and you need to get free of its programming. Ask questions, explore new ideas, and notice when your actual experience does not match up with beliefs and behaviors that have been forced on you from the cult we’re in. To help show you the way, there is a certain group of people who tend to be very happy a lot of the time. This “group of people” are kids under the age of six. What do they do differently than adults? They play more, they plan less, and they explore the present moment fully and completely. That’s a good place to start on the ever-evolving road to happiness.