Most people are chasing something in life. How many people do you know who are utterly happy and content with their current situation? If not many (or any), then what are people chasing? What, if they could just achieve or have that, would make them happy?
The implication in the former paragraph is that people are chasing happiness. “Happiness” may encompass a few other concepts – such as peace, purpose, contentment, fulfilment, and so on – but surely the end goal, which people are chasing, must be happiness (whichever concepts you may associate with it).
Next, a thought experiment:
If you could have any quantity of wealth (money, assets, “toys”, buildings, …), witness any quantity of beauty (perfect beaches, green rolling hills, …), or have any other physical element which you might desire – would it matter at all if there was absolutely nobody else to ever share it with, or ever tell about it?
The hypothesis of this article is that what people really want, and what ultimately makes them happy, is “relationships”. Not just any relationships however, but good relationships (bad relationships are worse than no relationships at all). The other things which people often seem to think they want (assets, beauty, and so on) are simply “topic for conversation” in context of the relationships – unless they are shared with someone else (either by having an experience with someone else or at least by telling them about it) they are generally not valuable. (There is also the concept of a relationship with “the great spirit”, however as this article attempts to remain agnostic this will be steered away from for now.)
Relationships themselves are built on esteem. People measure each other, and themselves, by a certain set of values which they view the world through – a framework, a paradigm, which shapes the way they see reality. When people do well at adhering to the values of a given paradigm, then their esteem (or respect) within that paradigm increases (both in terms of self-esteem, as well as in terms of the respect of others who subscribe to the same paradigm). Because people will shun relationships with those they do not respect, and welcome relationships with those they do respect, esteem can be seen as the currency of relationships. To look at some examples of value frameworks:
- Some people may value money and wealth, and give little consideration to those who do not possess these assets.
- Some people may value kindness, and esteem those who are selfless (regardless of their circumstances such as wealth or physical appearance).
- In extreme examples, such as in perhaps a violent gang, things such as the ability to steal or murder may be valued.
From the above examples it should be obvious that value frameworks can often clash – an attribute which is desirable in one paradigm may be undesirable in another. Some value frameworks (or perhaps one value framework in particular) also tend to promote equality in relationships, whilst other value frameworks tend to form strongly hierarchical relationship structures (where one party in the relationship is always dominant and controlling over the other, it being difficult or impossible to form an “equal” relationship). Relationships of equality or of hierarchy are however a topic for a different article.
Coming back to the hypothesis of this article; that which people chase revolves around other people.
- People chase things which would increase their esteem according to their value framework – trying to increase their standing among their peers (even if those peers are only hypothetical, in other words “haven’t been met yet”). When this concept is applied to wealth, it can be realised that wealth or poverty itself is an entirely relative term, judged only by comparison to peers. If there was nobody to compare with, how would you know whether you were dirt poor or filthy rich?
- People strive to escape those they do not esteem and surround themselves with those they do esteem. For example, people may strive to physically relocate to a different area where the behaviour of the people – as per their value framework – is more appealing, normally creating a perceivedly “better environment” (cleaner, safer, etc); or people may even strive to physically relocate perhaps to simply escape people whose behaviour is not appealing (in the case of moving away from people entirely). Thinking about it carefully, the paradigm of people in a particular area affects not only their short-term behaviour, but also the entire environment they construct – layout of construction, amenities, and so forth.
Does the “secret to happiness” then reside in having a “good” value framework – a good paradigm / culture – and forming relationships within that framework?