This weekend my husband and I watched the film I Am, a documentary from Tom Shadyac the director of features like Ace Ventura and other comedies. He documents his unhappiness, even though he has attained wealth, possessions and other symbols of status. He equates, in the film, the pursuit of stuff as a mental illness. That the more he had, he wasn't happier, he just had more stuff.
We laughed because we figured that out years ago without the benefit of having/selling a multi-million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills or riding around in private jets. We know that having more stuff doesn't make you happier, we just didn't acquire stuff in the first place.
I left the stuff game 10 years ago because I realized that it was futile. There is never enough stuff. You can never make enough money. You can't acquire enough baubles, clothing, cars, homes, vacations, etc. There is always more, more and more.What I saw, working in corporate America, was the people weren't getting happier. They were actually getting more stressed. Because all of that stuff needs more stuff and you have to keep doing bigger and bigger things in order to keep getting more and more stuff. This is extremely stressful.
He talks to a lot of wonderful folks (Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, his dad, etc.) about what actually makes you happy. The idea over and over is that it is love. Love towards others. Companionship, caring, community. Those are the things that actually make you happy.
And they are.
I would propose there are two other things: doing work that you find value in and making a difference.
I think we have been suckered into thinking that we have to find work that pays great, makes us rich, or moves up some imaginary ladder. When I watch stock footage of men on the stock floor I realize that although they are in pursuit of something they look stressed, unhappy, and filled with grief. That isn't happiness. It is the same when I see checkers at Walmart. Those that don't truly love customer service are having their souls sucked out of them... they are just paying the bills. That isn't a way to live either.
It is great when both your work and your life get to come together to make a difference for others, but that doesn't always happen - it is fine. I just propose that somewhere in your life you have to do something for the planet, the people, or something other than you to find true happiness.
These are pretty simple things - don't go after more stuff, find work that you value, and make a difference. Why does it take so many people so long to figure it out?
(Note: there is a bit of hooey in the film about the heart, blah blah blah. I don't actually ascribe to that pseudo science, but the rest of the film was lovely. Search it out. It is worth a look.)