Friday, August 31, 2007
Happiness is a Serious Problem
I owe radio host and author, Dennis Prager, the credit for the title and the following equation: U=I-R (unhappiness = image minus reality).
Here's what it means. There are a lot of unhappy people in the world. And, oddly enough, money seems to have no bearing on a person's happiness. Many lottery winners are either broke or unhappy or both. I have seen profound unhappiness on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and profound happiness in the rural villages of Zambia. Basically, human nature is the biggest obstacle to happiness. Human nature is insatiable. Something in us longs for more. What we have is never enough. It's part of the human condition that the Bible speaks of. Ecclesiastes says that God has "set eternity in the hearts of men." Restlessness is part of the human spirit. We create idealistic images of what we would like our lives to look like. We create dreams in our minds where disease, death, and poverty do not exist. But rarely do the images/dreams match reality. Unhappiness is how we deal with the distance between our images and reality.
So, let's start simple. A young woman may have an image in her mind of the perfect husband with the perfect job with perfect kids - you know, the white picket fence kinda life. Then she marries, and after a few years she finds out that her husband is basically a jerk, her kids are brats, and they still live in some cheap apartment because of credit problems. Her unhappiness is the distance between the image in her mind, and the reality of her life. You can apply this equation to every aspect of life. A parent may have an image of their son as a doctor, but the son turns out to be a car salesman. The gap manifests itself in the parent's unhappiness. Or, you may have an image of yourself as a college professor, but your undergraduate GPA is a 3.0, so Ph.D programs turn you down. The gap becomes your source of unhappiness. Take people's unhappiness with God and religion - the same principle applies. One's image of what God is or what the church ought to be doesn't match reality, and people find themselves angry at God or angry at the church. Let's say you have an image in your mind of the ideal, loving relationship, but the reality is less than the image. The gap is unhappiness in your life. The images we create in our minds of what relationships ought to be hardly ever match reality. I have observed this to be the greatest source of unhappiness for people. NO ONE, absolutely NO ONE gets married expecting a divorce.
I could go on and on and on, but I want my readers to share. So let me be autobiographical. As a child I created an image in my mind of living in America as an American. But I was born in South Africa. The gap was highlighted by me putting up American flags everywhere and using American spelling. The day I became a U.S. citizen, the gap closed. Now I'm happy with my identity. When I was 18 I had an image that I would be a professional cyclist - then I moved to Texas, went to preaching school, was introduced to fried chicken and cheesecake, and all of a sudden, there was a huge gap between my image and the reality of my life. That's why I cried when I watched the opening of the 1996 Olympic Games. That image no longer exists in my mind, so I'm not unhappy being out of shape - yeah, yeah, I know I could lose some weight! Speaking of appearances - you see a magazine ad, or you watch Pretty Woman, and you create an image in your mind of looking like Julia Roberts. A lot of girls suffer eating disorders and depression because the gap between the image and the reality is a source of great unhappiness. This principle applies across the board - relationships, looks, health, career, home, finances, religion - you name it, this principle applies. Unhappiness = the gap between Image and Reality.
So, how do you become happy? It seems like there are 2 options. You could create a new, lesser image, or you could work hard to make reality closer to the image in your mind. Either way, for most people, happiness is a serious problem! Your thoughts?