Have we so prioritized consumption, success, money, and self reliance that we’ve forgotten what actually makes us happy?
I heard a quote from Jim Carrey recently. He said everybody should get rich and famous so they could see that it’s not the answer.
Science has told us over and over again that beyond our immediate needs, money doesn’t make us happy. Love, family, connection, and community do.
Some people living in poverty are happier than those living in wealth. And it usually boils down to the fact that they have strong family and community ties.
I was talking to my brother this morning, and I wanted to tell you about him because he made a choice 15 years ago that surprised a lot of people.
I wasn’t surprised at all when he explained the main reason for his choice.
First, a bit of background. My brother and I spent the majority of our childhood in Turkey. When we came to settle in America for good, I was 18, and he was 16.
We have the blood of two cultures. Our dad is Turkish. Our mother is American. They split when we were little, and each of them remarried and had additional kids. Our family tree is complicated, so suffice it to say, we have very close loved ones in America and in Turkey. We travel between the two countries once or twice a year.
Life in Turkey is not as comfortable as it is in America. Economic conditions are difficult, and the average standard of living is not nearly as high.
In spite of this, my brother, at age 30, even though he is a U.S. citizen, and even though he had lived the majority of his years in the U.S., left his comfortable life in America and moved back to Turkey.
There was one overwhelming reason: connection.
No matter how many friends and family he had in the U.S., he couldn’t shake a feeling of loneliness. I remember him saying that he felt like he ‘belonged’ in Turkey. He felt alienated and disconnected, and realized that people here just didn’t ‘get it’.
I know what he’s talking about, and people who haven’t lived in cultures that emphasize the group over the individual have a hard time understanding.
I still feel at times that living in the U.S. means living without a limb that I left in Turkey. And yet, I don’t completely belong there either. I’m perpetually homesick wherever I go.
So back to this morning, and my brother, Omer. He’s in the U.S. for the first time in two years. We chatted about connection and why so many people are lonely, particularly in America.
In the US people are strongly encouraged to pursue their own happiness and to focus on their individual goals, desires and successes. There just isn’t as much of a sense of duty towards family and friends, or the community, when making life decisions.
This may have happened because gaining economic freedom became easier for most people in the U.S than it is in other countries. Here in the U.S., people can afford to go off on their own because there isn’t economic interdependence within family members, and in fact, it’s highly discouraged.
The cost of this, is loneliness and disconnection.
Then there is the bombardment of messages telling us what we’re supposed to want and desire from life. When we look at what those things are, much of them are material.
Think about it. If an alien were to land in America today, and given the puzzle of figuring out what was most important to us, what would it conclude?
Signs are everywhere. We live in a culture that rewards working at the expense of connection. Work harder so you can consume more and buy better things.
Far too often, we equate success with money. Ads and marketing tell us constantly that we need things to be happy, and most important, look happy.
This pressure to succeed and perform and pursue material signs of success, just doesn’t exist in Turkey to the extent it does in the Western world.
Peoples main goals and desires are prioritized differently in Turkey, and for that matter, in many Eastern and Asian cultures.
What’s more important in such cultures, is that they have obligations and duties to fulfill to their family and community. If pressure exists, this is where it is, and sacrifices are a part of life.
Because the extended family unit is one, and what affects your circle of friends and family, affects you.
Yes, in some ways this causes stress and unhappiness, but the rewards of this ‘one-ness’ can be far greater. There is a sense of purpose, of being a valuable member of a tribe, and what we call belonging. In the same way, when and whatever you need, you have a tribe behind you.
Having said all this… as globalization and western values have spread, Turkey is changing and increasingly becoming an individual and consumer oriented society as well. It wouldn’t be surprising if loneliness is on the rise there, even if it’s not to the extent that it is here in the U.S.
The causes of increasing disconnection and disengagement and loneliness in our society are complex. This is just one tiny facet.
One thing though, is for sure.
We need to begin asking some hard questions and reviewing our priorities.
Something has gone very wrong. Researchers tell us that disconnection is making us sick, that its seeping into life and work, and wreaking havoc on us. And so, we need to change direction.
Somehow, we need to figure out where we can still work, pursue goals, have a sense of freedom, AND, be more involved with and connected to our families, friends, and communities.
Right now I just want you to think about this, and it’s not easy to admit the answer…In what ways does your concern for your economic well-being get in the way of connection, friendship, and cultivating community?
If you’re like many people, including myself, you’re going to say you’re short on time.
But what does that really come down to?