You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need. – The Rolling Stones
Right now, millions of people suffer on our planet because what we want distracts us from what we actually need. The Rolling Stones made this observation decades ago, yet still we struggle.
For example, you may want to be admired by others, to gain a high status job, make a lot of money, have a successful career and buy a big house.
Unfortunately, such dreams could make you miserable. What we need for happiness is work that feeds our souls, that helps us to improve skills and grow, that provides us with a living but also makes us happier and wiser human beings.
The competitive ‘rat race‘ mentality of modern life means that many people look forward to their ‘free time’ as a chance to escape. They get caught up in political dramas, watch too much television or pornography, surf the internet, get drunk, play video games, get high on drugs or gamble.
Sadly, these ‘escape’ experiences are addictive traps. These methods never work because to be truly happy, humans need to connect with the world in meaningful (rather than meaningless) ways. We need to do enjoyable and playful things with others, to express our talents, practice arts or sports, collaborate on creative projects, develop our skills and human potential.
Fake Stories and False Dreams
To be happy and free we need to be aware of bad influences. Your dog or cat knows more about happiness than the talking heads of large corporations, Madison Avenue and Wall Street. The mainstream media is a propaganda machine spinning fake stories and false dreams created by skilful marketing wizards who try to convince us to live in fear of certain ‘others’, crave what we don’t need and consume worthless things.
They feed our desires, fears and anxiety, trying to convince us to ingest unhealthy thoughts and materials that do us more harm than good. They try to tempt us to eat chocolate, donuts, french fries, steak and ice cream. To put food in our bodies that provide a brief moment of pleasure, yet lead to obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, sickness and early death.
What human beings need is to care for our minds and bodies, to eat healthily, to treat our psychological and physical wellbeing with love, wisdom and care. To teach our children to avoid foods (and ideas) that were manufactured to taste or feel ‘good’ for a moment, but in truth do harm to our bodies and spirits.
Materialism is A Lie
Much of what the modern world tries to sell us is fake. Not just fake news, but also fake goals, fake dreams, fake foods, fake enemies and fake views.
Because of televised and internet media, millions (perhaps billions) of humans are drowning in dissatisfaction, wanting the perfect body, perfect home, perfect partner, perfect job, perfect sex life. This is what corporations and mass marketers (as well as some friends and family) tell us will bring happiness. But it won’t, because materialism is a big lie.
We don’t need more things to be happy. As the Roman philosopher Seneca put it:
The greatest wealth is a poverty of desires.
Feed Your Soul, Not Your Ego
What your soul needs is deeper connectedness and peace, freedom from fear and anxiety, loving relationships, creative activities, meaningful projects, time alone with nature, and a sense of spiritual or emotional connection to life, humanity and the Universe.
This wisdom is shared by many spiritual traditions. It’s taught by Taoism and Zen, and lived moment-to-moment by many animals. To be truly happy on this planet humans need to understand the difference between the fake narratives our consumer society feeds us, about who we are and what we truly desire, and what we need as creative, social and spiritual beings.
Happiness arises naturally when we feed our souls rather than our egos. To become wiser and happier, we need to understand the difference between what Buddhists refer to as samsara (false views) and nirvana (reality). Only then can we gain freedom from society’s endless marketing of fake goals, meaningless things and harmful products that keep billions of humans trapped in suffering, wanting and confusion.
To be happy as a species, I think we need to master for ourselves (and model for our children) how to not let fake wants get in the way of real needs.