I have lately become aware of how the feeling of contentment is actually quite rare; despite it being what we all strive for.
It makes me wonder whether this idea of ‘contentment’ sitting somewhere in the future, is in fact just a mirage.
I mentioned my Grandmother’s gardens in my last post, and the truth is I spent a lot of my childhood around her. In her big, beautiful barn house, running around her grounds with my noble steed – her strong but gentle Jack Russell.
My grandmother carries with her an ora of wisdom, an ora that is threaded through the stories she tells of her childhood; of home-grown vegetables, home-baked bread, and walks to the local farm to refill glass milk bottles.
Despite money being thin for next-to-all families after the war, my Grandmother always speaks of these times with such fondness and appreciation. Not once have I heard her complain of anxiety in her teens, or feelings of deprivation through lack of the latest, greatest products. Just playtimes in her village fields, and old board games with her siblings.
I do wonder whether the simple life holds the key to contentment; lifestyle stripped of materialsm, unrealistic expectations, and un-win-able competitions.
The Olympicture Perfect Games
We all know the famous phrase ‘Keeping Up with the Jones’. Of course, this period was way before my time, but from what I know of, I believe the sudden boom of televisions in every living room, as of the 1950s, commercialised the concept. Playing on everyone’s need to have the latest gift, gadget and ‘gaf’, they perhaps exacerbated it! And consequently quickened the pace of the race heading into the future…
While Keeping Up With The Jones was, as I said, a phrase used before I was even born, it still holds a meaning that I can recognise daily throughout even my own generation, arguably even more severely than amongst my parents’. Therefore, despite possibly being a slightly outdated collection of words, it’s long-living applicability begs the question: Is it human nature, or a weed watered by digital portals?
From The Jones to the Kardashians
I am not a religious viewer of reality shows myself, but I do believe they are both symbolic and influencing. Good or bad; either or both. I think they play on the escapism that human’s seem to naturally desire, but I also see how they inspire envy in their viewers, and consequently perhaps spark a little discontentment for their reality.
It isn’t unknown that these shows are, in fact, ‘scripted reality’ and so are not actually real. So why do we let it have influence over our standards for contentment? Are we unconsciously striving for unrealistic ideals as a consequence of these shows? Are we chasing mirages?
However, as I just touched on, it is also arguable that we buy into these ideals as escapism. This does, therefore, have me wondering of the causal direction; are people already feeling discontent in order to be seeking such escapism into the Kardashian mansion? Or is it demonstrating a counter-productive entertainment?
Of course, it could be both. In which case, we’re seeking solace in a place that is, in actuality, worsening the problem.
But what could be the reasoning for this discontentment sending us retreating to ideal-reality shows for comfort? Digital technology is serving us more opportunities than ever before – monetary, careers and everything in-between. Opportunities that were only imaginable in my Grandmother’s young years. So why, as a society, are we not the happiest that has ever existed?
We seek more money, more opportunities, and more possessions in order to seek contentment. More ‘beauty’, more friends, and more success.
But instead, there seems to be more fake friendships and cosmetic alterations, more mental health struggles, more divorces, and even more suicides. Not the lightest of thoughts, I know, it is a sad but real demonstration of society’s current state of contentment.
The Rising Fall of Mental Health
I am slightly shy to admit that, despite always considering myself as self-assured and confident, I have recently felt anxiety in ways that I used to consider unusual. In school, I’d be the consoling shoulder and listening ear for friends who were struggling. I remember my parents occasionally mentioning how unusual it was for young people to be experiencing such struggles. I suppose in their lifetimes, it has been unusual! Until now.
It is a sad reality; knowing people are feeling less content in themselves and their lives. To the point of, in some cases, feeling suicide is their only relief left to try. It’s heartbreaking.
I have found some research into the extent of the problem, for example; BBC News provided updates on the current state of mental health among individuals, with an NHS survey finding that a sixth of the population in England aged 16 to 64 have a mental health problem.
It is a considerable possibility, as also expressed in the BBC article, that people are simply feeling more comfortable to open up about having struggles in recent years. In which case, I see triumphant improvements in society; people are feeling less judged and more comfortable to seek help.
However, BBC news also acknowledged the unfortunate possibility of other factors too, for example modern life taking a depressing toll on us.
“…21st Century life is taking its toll on some people. Economic uncertainty, social media, the influence of the media and rising expectations of what life should be like have all been suggested as possible causes” – BBC News
I’m not sure whether the mentions of said factors pointing to digital media are referring to the pressures I have been talking about. However, it is how I personally interpret it. Maybe that is due to my personal experiences and opinions, though. I suppose interpretation is subjective.
Maybe you are reading this thinking that the internet and social media has aided your struggles! If so, I applaud digital technology. I must admit, it has offered a giant helping hand in spreading awareness and bringing people together in comfort.
Is Tech really the culpret?
Big Think expressed how dissatisfaction is wired into our biological makeup, saying that “The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.”
So perhaps technology and the internet’s portals simply nag at our ‘grass is greener’ gene.
Also, as I just briefly acknowledged, we have to shake digital media’s giant helping hand for the improvement in social stigma stuck to mental health struggles. Whether you believe it is a contributing factor to the problem or not, we cannot deny it’s aid. I know I can speak for myself and say whenever I feel anxious, about anything, I will always find comforting advice or a relatable quote that eliminates the feeling of struggling alone.
After research into digital technology’s effects on our contentment, I think I’m torn: between technology having opened up our goal’s doors to vaster opportunities, or whether these doors are more of a window – to unrealistic pictures that are labelled as happiness.