Is Consumption Killing Us?
I read today that over 10% of 18-25-year-olds suffer from depression in America. Almost 800,000 people die from suicide annually, which is one every 40 seconds. 20 million Americans admit to at least one addiction. Now you may be asking yourself why I’m trying to bring you down right now. I’m not! I am trying to open your eyes (and my own) to the tremendous toll our society and how we handle stress is literally killing us! Maybe we will not resort to self-harm (please don’t!), but our quality of life is eroding little by little. Let’s take a look at why these statistics are so alarming and then uncover some rays of hope to shine on the situation.
First, why is America so down? Why is mental health so bad anymore? Well, without pushing any agendas (especially since I am not, in fact, Buddhist), Buddhism teaches the practice of mindfulness, offering up that very few people can achieve it without intention. Thich Nhat Hanh, a monk that has written several books on mindfulness, says that we are a society of consumers, treating our inner pain with consumption, materialism, and addiction. Therefore, he explains that rather than facing problems and dealing with them, we reach for another slice of pizza, play another few hours of video games, buy unnecessary stuff, or watch season after season of our favorite Netflix show. OK, I’m paraphrasing. The point is that burying our feelings leads to many people feeling overwhelmed, numb, or hopeless. A global pandemic and nationwide quarantine has not helped matters this year, nor has all of the other outrageous crap going on in our country.
So what can we do about it? How can we get those numbers back down? More relevant to us personally, how can we discover more meaningful, fulfilling lives ourselves?
Here are 5 Ways to Be Happier…
Regardless of What is Going on in the World Around Us
1. Mindfulness: You don’t have to convert to Buddhism to discover the joys of living in the moment. Mindfulness simply means connecting to whatever you are doing in the present. Whether you are studying, washing dishes, out on a date, or playing with your little brother, be all-in. Put down your phone. Clear your head of the “to-do” list that’s taking up space in your mind. Everything else can wait. Focus on what you’re doing NOW. When you feel your mind wander, take a second, and come back to the present. This one step alone is a game-changer! Trust me.
2. Use Your Words: Talk to someone, anyone, when you’re feeling stressed. Depending on what kind of stress it is, maybe you go to your mom or dad for sage advice. If it regards your love life, go to a friend…or your partner if it involves him or her. If you need financial questions answered, ask someone you know that has his act together. The point is, try not to stuff emotions down. Sometimes the mere act of venting to another person is all the therapy you need.
3. Adjust Your Attitude: That you have a warm bed to sleep in, running water, and are still satiated from your last meal, means you have more than about 2/3 of the world. I’m serious. Reread that sentence because it’s not fluff. It’s 100% true. Something else to consider is that you have eyes to read this blog post, which means you can not only see, but read. Again, not everyone can say that. It’s all about perspective. As far as attitude goes regarding school, at work, etc. think of it this way. You have to do certain things in life. Everyone, including the President, has to do certain things, like it or not. So try doing it with a positive attitude. Before you know it, you’ll be back on that couch watching television again, so chill.
4. The Little Things: People get so caught up in waiting around for the big moments in life: Getting a driver’s license, going to the prom, graduating, flying through the college years, getting married, having kids, owning a sick car. The truth is, studies show it’s the little things that actually bring us the most joy. Think about how you feel when you’re about to eat the perfect meal, kiss a pretty girl, or get a great night’s sleep. All of the “little” things end up being the most memorable and significant at the end of the day…or even at the end of your life. Take a moment to appreciate the sounds, smells, tastes, and sights around you each hour, each day, and each week.
5. Get Help: It almost sounds cliché, but if you really feel like you can’t hack it on your own anymore, get help! There are countless resources available from school counselors, teachers, and friends, to psychologists and different types of therapies, and even medication when necessary. It’s a form of self-hatred to deny yourself help when it’s out there waiting to toss you a life preserver. The shame isn’t in needing help. It is in refusing to swallow your pride and ask for it.
Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. No one does, or the statistics wouldn’t be so scary. But a big part of being happy is slowing down, taking a look at what’s around us, and appreciating the moment. It’s been said that “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, and today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” But on a serious note, again, if all else fails and this advice is too frivolous for your current state of being, seek help. Kristen Bell, Jim Carrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Johnny Depp, Eminem, and about a hundred more celebrities have admitted to suffering from depression and being helped immensely through various therapies. You’re not alone!