There has been much talk of happiness in the press recently. University of Leicester recently came out with a world map of happiness, how cool is that?
It’s no shocker to see more developed countries taking the top spots, most studies do confirm that you need a basic level of health and education to have options in life and thus be happy.
But many American studies seem to focus on the context of sacrifice and materialism. Achieving happiness through denial of materialism is often presented as a painful but necessary means to a better end of happiness – self help books always trumpet the “don’t buy anything for 5 years and you can cancel your debts and be truly happy!” But to me, simplication is an end in itself. It’s not about simplifying my life so that I can be happy, it’s about simplication making me happy in the first place.
Coming to Boston has been serendipitous – one of the first writers I got inspired by was Thoreau and his call of “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify”. I drove past the Walden Pond with boyfriend J a few days ago and it was beautiful. Covered with light snow and basking in the glows of the setting sun, the pond had a spiritual feel to its beauty. Looking at the cabin by the pond, it’s easy to see how Thoreau could enjoy simplicity the way he did.
I’m not sure if Thoreau will really recognise America today, it’s far from his Walden ideals. While Americans do belong to the upper rung of many happiness studies, I’m not sure how long that would continue when American’s economy declines with the deflating real estate market and the rise of emerging markets (look out for China! And India! And Brazil! And Middle East! Oh the list is just too long…) When happiness is constantly viewed through the lens of consumption, can Americans see happiness as anything beyond Donald Trump, bling bling, McMansions, SUVs, expensive clothes, dining out at restaurants etc etc?