Having talked about needless luxuries, I thought I should start exploring the issue from the other side, pondering what it takes to live a good, happy and fulfilling life that is environmentally viable, ethically acceptable, and consistent with holding pagan beliefs. As this is a hefty topic, I will probably be spending a few days in it – see where the awen takes me.
Mainstream notions of living well seem to be all about ease, comfort, convenience, speed. You want the very best, and you want it now, at no extra cost and in some shiny packaging. It’s about being up to date with the latest trends, having the right clothes, the best of the gadgets, food that takes no effort to prepare, and so forth. Adverts tell you that you need these things to help you out in your hectic lifestyle. Why is life hectic? For most of us, because we work longer hours, commuting further, to pay for all the things we think we must have.
What happens to leisure time if you follow the current consensus? Television, social networking sites, films, computer games and getting drunk – usually at home because it’s cheaper. These are things that we can passively consume, that take little imagination and effort. We can just chill out and let it happen, and that’s what makes people happy, right? I disagree. These are just ways of killing time and trying to distract ourselves from dissatisfaction.
Based on observation, there do seem to be a fair few people who are willing to spend their time between working, sleeping and flopping in front of the television and/or playing on facebook. Frankly, I have no idea how that works. I see other people who are doing the conventional things, and are clearly not satisfied, but who have yet to find other ways of living.
The very first step is to question the whole notion happiness as we are sold it – ease, comfort, convenience and speed. These are concepts of ‘happiness’ that, I think, are far more about keeping us as good little consumers. We are told repeatedly that we can buy happiness, and that if we cannot buy the latest happy thing, we must be miserable. Advertising is an insidious erroder of actual enjoyment, constantly encouraging us to go after some new thing, promising that this time it will satisfy. But of course as soon as you get the latest, shiniest thing, there’s something new to want that you can’t possibly be happy without.
Happiness is not a product or a service we can buy. A person can own all the gadgets and prestige items they can dream of and still be miserable. Escape through intoxication may bring temporary relief, but for many it creates far more problems than it solves. A temporary illusion of wellbeing that leaves a hangover in its wake, and a hole in your wallet, and only the haziest memory of what actually happened. This is not happiness. Others turn to sex and porn for a way of feeling good, and I’ve watched friends who find it increasingly difficult to get the hit, the kick they need from this. I’m very much in favour of sex and alcohol as part of good living, but without relationship, both of these things can just as easily hollow you out, leaving and empty feeling that does no good at all.
The consumer culture is not a happy one. It thrives on dissatisfaction and yearning. We do not need to be servants of corporations and economies. We do not exist to buy and consume. It would be much better for the planet if we didn’t. So where does happiness lie? In all the old fashioned things we’ve been encouraged to reject as being… well… old fashioned, and requiring a bit of effort. Friendship, relationship, love, community, a job well done, a song shared, a good meal, a glass of wine, an afternoon under a tree… things that cost little, and give much. We are increasingly isolated, and moving away from all the ‘real’ things that give joy and meaning in life. If we want to be happy, these are things we have got to resist.
I’ll be exploring these good things in more detail in the coming days.