We live in the richest country in the world. Why are so many of us so unhappy?
One reason we are unhappy is that we see a causal connection between wealth and happiness. Our millionaire movie stars and professional athletes have more money than they will ever spend, but they take drugs to relieve the pain of their existence.
That doesn’t make sense.
Money can’t buy happiness, can it?No, but it can anesthetize the pain of unhappiness. So why do those who seem to have it all, feel miserable? Because success in the present does not erase the painful events in the past.
For instance, most children, sooner or later, experience an event that makes them feel excluded. Belonging is an essential experience for healthy emotional growth. We belong by feeling included in a family, friends, or a community.
Every child experiences discomfort growing-up. Some kids bounce right back. Other stew on minor set backs for thirty years. They concluded that these disappointments were brought on by their pre-existing vulnerability to feeling inadequate as a child. They are sensitive to any evidence that might confirm their expectation that they are being excluded.
For some, all they can do is drown out the pain of their exclusion or rejection with narcotics. When that does not work, they become lost and end up in prison or homeless shelters, fulfilling their lifelong conviction that they do not and cannot belong.
Most of us are not that extreme. The events of our childhood were not dramatic or devastating. But to a sensitive child, a little bit of rejection can go a long way. Now as an adult, they complain that they feel discomfort at parties, left out at work and alienated from their family and partner.
Many psychological theories treat alienation as if it were a distinct pathological entity that can be diagnosed and treated separately from all the other aspects of the human condition. They seek to ascribe the feeling of rejection to some external cause which, once identified, can be rectified.
Lately, these causes have included: socio-economic deprivation, peer rejection and depersonalization by forces beyond one’s control such as the media, the breakdown of the family, violent video games, the absence of prayer in the schools, or discrimination. However, these theories fail to consider the pre-existing vulnerabilities that people bring to these external events. They do not consider the context in which the alienation exists.
Yet, the pain of alienation cannot be relieved by intellectual understanding alone. We must relieve this feeling by replacing it with another one in the moment that it is happening. This means that we must do our homework. The next time we are at a party, in church or at a meeting, we can catch ourselves feeling out of place and unworthy to be in the company of “better” people. We can consciously choose to replace that negative feeling with the experience of ourselves as worthwhile human beings in our own right in spite of our faults and imperfections.
We can remind ourselves that we deserve to be in this place, no more and no less than anyone else. We do not have to justify our presence. We are members of the human race in good standing. No one can give that to us and no one can take it away.