I’ve spent my whole life striving for things, always living each moment of my life as though it was a means to some sort of illusive end. An end that I naively believed would inevitably bring me everything I thought that I desired, namely validation, approval, security and success. All things in which our society conditions us to perceive as tantamount to living the good life. Eudemonia is a Greek word that Aristotle once used to describe the good life, which he argued was a life of happiness because happiness was the only value which was an end within itself, and not a means to some other end. I’m sure that we can almost all agree with Aristotle in the sense that happiness is something we are all ultimately searching for. In the past 2.2 decades that I have been blessed to walk this earth I have also been blessed to learn a lot about happiness, what happiness is and what it isn’t.
As a child I often struggled in school. Not because I wasn’t smart, but because I was neither inspired nor interested by a majority of the minutia that I was forced to learn about explicitly in varies preselected subjects that I had absolutely no say in selecting but that were carefully selected for me by my “forefathers” who knew absolutely nothing about me nor my interests yet considered these said subjects to be in my interest to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn, and I personally consider it one of the fundamental purposes of life. However, our system of education has become so institutionalized that it has not only taken the joy out of learning but also the meaning and purpose of it as well.
The process of learning should be joyful, and the purpose of learning should be to acquire knowledge. Our school systems however have stifled our ability to fully enjoy the process of learning because we have been repeatedly forced and conditioned to learn about only the subjects in which we are taught and in the manner in which we are taught, therefore denying us of the independence to follow our passions and acquire our own unique process of perceiving information.
Education has taught us that the process of learning is primarily conceptual rather than experiential. Conceptual knowledge is acquired through the mind and can only be understood on the level of the mind, experiential knowledge however is acquired through the senses and is understood only through direct experience. There is a huge difference between knowing of something, and knowing it. The former lacks full understanding, while the latter inspires true understanding. Our educational system has not only failed to inspire true understanding, it has also failed to inspire the process and purpose of learning as well.
Our educational system has turned the process of learning into a means to an end. The structure of our classrooms require us to learn and memorize certain material in order to take an exam that our teacher will then grade us on. This has taught us that in order to gain validation of our level of intelligence we must pass certain standardized tests and meet whatever criteria is considered “standard” or normal. The notion of standardized testing itself is absurd because it asserts that all intelligence is the same and naively assumes that there is only one right answer and anything that isn’t “right” is wrong. From a young age we are conditioned to conform to what is considered “normal” by consistently striving to meet the status quo in order to attain the security and comfort that is gained by earning other people’s approval and validation of our personal worth.
Traditional education has stifled our creativity and denied us of our ability to “think outside of the box” and find our own solutions to problems. Einstein agreed that education was the only thing that interfered with his learning because he understood that knowledge was stimulated through real-life experience and genuine expression, rather than through the passive learning practices and imposed fear of being “wrong” that is placed upon children in order to suppress their ingenuity.
One would assume that the measure of success then is objective and measured by whether or not a man has gained validation, approval and security over the course of his lifetime. Within our society we are not only taught that education is at the root of success, but that in order for one’s success to be perceived they must secure the validation of their monetary success through the acquisition of material possessions which will gain the temporary approval of others until the transient nature of all material possessions depreciates the worth of said possessions and so they are forced to seek and acquire “the next best thing” in order to “keep up with the Jones'”. Are you starting to understand the perpetual cycle of success and acceptance that is fueled by the consumer driven society in which we live?
We are brainwashed and conditioned by our consumer driven society to spend years working at a job (that most of us hate but that ensures our success and security) in order to buy the things that we want and are persuaded to believe that we need. Eventually we begin to want more than we need and need more than we want. So then why is it that validation, approval, security and success are said to be the ingredients of happiness yet so many seemingly secure and successful people today find themselves unhappy and unfulfilled?!
Because we have been, and continue to be, persuaded to buy someone else’s dream and so many of us continue to strive to meet everyone else’s expectations without ever taking the time to realize our own.
I don’t want to live a life defined by other people’s expectations and perceptions of what the good life is. I don’t want anyone except myself to define my happiness. I want to rewrite the rules of reality and break free from the box that society has imposed on me.
Validation is fruitless because it forces us to look outside of ourselves for other people’s approval. The only validation that I aspire to obtain is my own, by courageously and persistently following my own heart, paving my own path, and expressing my own authenticity, even in the face of adversity.
Approval is meaningless because it asks us to live up to society’s standards of success. The only approval I wish to gain is the approval of myself, by unconditionally accepting myself for all that I am through the trials and triumphs that I have and will endure throughout my life.
Security is an illusion because the nature of reality is change. The only security I will strive to maintain is the unshakeable security I feel within myself for fully loving, accepting and expressing myself despite what others may think of me, my decisions and how I choose to live my life.
Success is subjective; therefore it does not follow any objective set of rules and its definition is dependent upon oneself. The only instrument that I will choose to measure my success by is the amount of lives that I have inspired and love that I have extended to others.
This is what in my opinion leads to the good life and the realization of fulfillment, inner peace and ultimately happiness.
How do you define your happiness?