A couple of weeks ago I listened to a really interesting article on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about a new book by psychologist Oliver James called Affluenza: The All-consuming Epidemic.
They were asking can you be successful and stay sane? The book, seemingly, suggests not. Here’s a synopsis of the book:
There is currently an epidemic of ‘affluenza’ throughout the world – an obsessive, envious, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses – that has resulted in huge increases in depression and anxiety among millions.
In 2004, over a nine-month period, bestselling author, Oliver James travelled around the world to try and find out why.
He explored how, despite very different cultures and levels of wealth, affluenza is spreading. Cities he visited included Sydney, Singapore, Moscow, Budapest, Copenhagen, Delhi and Shanghai, and in each place he interviewed several groups of people in the hope of finding out not only why this is happening, but also how one can increase the strength of one’s emotional immune system.
He asks: why do so many more people want what they haven’t got and want to be someone they’re not, despite being richer and freer from traditional restraints? And, in so doing, uncovers the answer to how to reconnect with what really matters and learn to value what you’ve already got. In other words, how to be happy.
I think that possibly one of the most valuable things we can hope to have is to be content with who we are, and what we have. Which is not to say that we should not aspire to better ourselves, but simply to be at peace with ourselves. Not hiding behind our belongings, surrounding ourselves with distractions so that we don’t have to sit with the uncomfortable truth that we don’t really know who we are, or don’t like who we are.
One of the most moving scenes in the recent Comic Relief does Fame Academy was when Tara Palmer-Tomkinson said that being on that show had allowed her to like herself for the first time.
I’m sure a lot of people look at TPT and think that she has everything because she has money, and fame, and everything that those bring. I’m glad that singing on Fame Academy did something profound for Tara … and singing is free.
One of the best books I’ve ever read (again and again) is Awareness by Anthony de Mello.
In this modern spiritual classic Anthony de Mello uses humour, anecdotes, compassion and insights to help us to be aware of who we are and what is real and important in our lives and the world around us.
On wanting happiness
I was saying that we don’t want to be happy. We want other things. Or let’s put it more accurately. We don’t want to be unconditionally happy. I’m ready to be happy provided I have this and that and the other thing, But this a really to say to our friend or to our God or to anyone, “You are my happiness. If I don’t get you, I refuse to be happy.” It’s so important to understand that. We cannot imagine being happy without those conditions. That’s pretty accurate. We cannot conceive of being happy without them. We’ve been taught to place our happiness in them.
So that’s the first thing we need to do if we want to come awake, which is the same thing as saying: if we want to love, if we want freedom, if we want joy and peace and spirituality.
In that sense, spirituality is the most practical thing in the whole wide world. I challenge anyone to think of anything more practical than spirituality as I have defined it — not piety, not devotion, not religion, not worship, but spirituality — waking up, waking up!
Look at the heartache everywhere, look at the loneliness, look at the fear, the confusion, the conflict in the hearts of people, inner conllict, outer conflict.
Suppose somebody gave you a way of getting rid of all of that? Suppose somebody gave you a way to stop that tremendous drainage of energy, of health, of emotion that comes from these conflicts and confusion. Would you want that?
Suppose somebody showed us a way whereby we would truly love one another, and be at peace, be at love. Can you think of anything more practical than that?
But, instead, you have people thinking that big business is more practical, that politics is more practical, that science is more practical. What’s the earthly use of putting a man on the moon when we cannot live on the earth?