There’s something wrong with our country and hugely stressed society. It’s not just that we twice as much money on Viagra as we do on research to cure Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s not just that, although gun crime is down, the 2010s have shown a sudden spike in mass shootings – nor that so many people seem to think that limiting gun access would somehow make things better. (According to Forbes, 77% of guns used in U.S. gun crime perpetrators didn’t obtain their guns from a legal purchase transaction, gun show or otherwise. But that’s an axe for another day.) And it’s not that corporatism has thoroughly invaded our political system – yet, knowing our government has been co-opted, we still argue about Left-Right politics and blame the other guys for the mess we’re in.
As I walked through my local Walmart yesterday, I was struck by displays for new products such as BBQ Rib flavored potato chips and Mountain Dew Start (whatever that is) in multiple flavors. I can’t imagine wanting to buy either one of those products. That’s not to say you shouldn’t. Freedom of choice is the American way. I just wonder what’s wrong with a potato-flavored potato chip, and whether several dozen variations on a soft drink really improves the quality of our lives?
Shortly after the Newtown school shooting, my friend Sharif Abdullah suggested that these acts of mass violence are an expression of pain, a pain that pervades our entire society, that we refuse to look at, and that we try to fill up with material possessions, self-improvement, Prozac, and recreational drugs. Few people took him seriously. I think he is spot-on. With a small minority of exceptions, we live in an economic and philosophical system that tells us we could be happy if we just bought the right stuff. And, since we’re not happy yet, clearly we we haven’t bought the right stuff yet – but we keep on trying. Yet we rank 105th out of 151 countries on the Happy Planet Index. Maybe that’s why antidepressant use has risen 400% – and why whites are taking them three times more than Hispanics and four times more than blacks. It’s ironic that we want to spread our brand of misery throughout the world, and that our work with “inequality” here at home seems to focus on allowing everyone to be just as miserable as the majority.
What we’re doing isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves what does work. What makes people happy? One study shows that in the U.S., people in rural areas are the happiest, with levels decreasing as one moved to suburbs, small cities, and large cities. This apparently is not true in other countries, but here, for whatever reason, the closer Americans live together, the less happy we are. Other studies suggest that some form of faith or strong spiritual belief makes people happier, especially in times of stress. (I would like to see a study that compares positive religion with negative religion, comparing for example Mennonites with Conservative Evangelicals or Engaged Buddhists with Buddhist Fundamentalists, but again, this is an axe for another day.)
Reading between the lines, and adding anecdotal experience, it may be possible to suggest that one thing that makes us happier is a sense of belonging – a sense of community. And it’s something that many Americans lack. We tend to settle into like-minded, single-issue groups. We tend not to know our neighbors. (Do you?) I’ve suggested before that getting to know our neighbors is a radical act that can transform our world. I’m not alone. One Christian site notes that we can’t love our neighbors if we don’t know our neighbors – and it outlines the social cost of that failing.
We can choose to disregard that suggestion because it was made by a religious person. Or we can look at the evidence of our misery and realize that another potato chip flavor (or another political discussion) isn’t going to fix what ails us. So get up from your computer, walk out the door, and introduce yourself to your neighbor. Invite them for dinner. It might change the world.
Discontent (with our looks. our finances, our relationships, etc.) arises when we are not reconciled with who or what we are. We “act out” against that pain with destructive self-centered behavior (by using drugs, changing our body, murder, suicide, etc.).
Rather than dealing with the outward expression of our pain, we need to talk about and deal with our dark/shadow side. Until we do so, we are simply dealing with the symptoms and not the causes.
We need to focus on the content of our character…not surface issues. We need to experience a transformation and turn on our Light…that spark of Divine Reality. In the contract we made with God, we agreed to shine our Light fearlessly.