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Finding Contentment Amidst a Consumer Culture

By: on Nov. 9, 2008

Here's something I've been thinking a lot about recently: how can we be peaceful and happy in life?

It’s the question on everyone’s minds, and one with an increasingly elusive answer in today’s world. The society we live in seems determined to convince us that we should be dissatisfied with what we have, and that if we get something else – something “better” – we’ll be happy.

Take for instance something as simple and everyday as shaving. We started out with the one blade razor. Then Gilette and other companies convinced us that this was not good enough – we needed two blades. Then came three and four. Now you’re a loser if you don’t have the five-blade Fusion Power razor with a precision trimmer and moisturizing strip.

But is it the best shave? No. According to Corey Greenberg at MSNBC.com, that honor goes to the classic double-edge safety razor, with its single blade – the very razor we all left behind to get those super-duper multi-bladers: “In the opinion of many shave-o-philes, the classic DE wipes the floor with any modern razor.” Hmm. Looks like we should have been satisfied with what we had in the first place.

Let’s consider a more hefty example – the person you decide to share the rest of your life with. Today, an incredible 50% of first marriages end in divorce. But that’s not the most interesting part. According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce. Obviously, people looking for the perfect relationship realized that their second and third partners were no more divine than their first. Rather than becoming happier and more content with a new partner, they grew even more dissatisfied.

All this, of course, is something that saints thousands of years ago, far before our modern “advanced” age, understood. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna as the dwarf brahmana Vamanadeva explains to the king Bali Maharaja: “Even the entirety of whatever there may be within the three worlds to satisfy one’s senses cannot satisfy a person whose senses are uncontrolled.”

But modern scientists are also realizing that there’s something inherently wrong with this society and the attitudes it yields. University of Kansas psychologist Dr. Steve Ilardi says, “One in four Americans will become clinically depressed by age 75." He adds, "Americans are 10 times more likely to have depressive illness than they were 60 years ago.”

Ilardi’s method for getting rid of depression – one currently gaining plenty of attention -- doesn’t involve popping pills or acquiring more “stuff.” Rather, it focuses on the simple things in life, such as exercise, spending time outside in the sun, and social interaction.

Studies on societies who lead less industrial lives drive the point home. Examples include the Amish and even more notably the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea, who are contemporary hunter-gatherers, and have been found to be virtually depression-free. It seems that the less we have – the less we try to get more things and rely on externals to make us happy – the happier we are.

Commenting on Vamana’s words quoted above, Srila Prabhupada writes: “Here Lord Vamanadeva, as an ideal renunciant, refuses Bali Maharaja's offer to give Him anything He might want. He says that without contentment one could not be happy even if he possessed the property of the entire world or the entire universe. In human society, therefore, people must be taught how to be satisfied with only what they need. In modern civilization there is no such education; everyone tries to possess more and more, and everyone is dissatisfied and unhappy. The Krishna consciousness movement is therefore establishing various farms, to show how to be happy and content with minimum necessities of life and to save time for self-realization, which one can very easily achieve by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.”

For ISKCON devotees as much as for everyone else, how to be peaceful, content and happy is something we must continue to work on. Personally, it’s something I’ve just recently opened my eyes to, and the result is extremely refreshing. For instance, I’ve constantly moved from one place to another throughout my life, and have always thought I’d be happier living somewhere else. Finally, I moved here to Florida from Ireland a few years ago. Once again, I thought: “This is pretty nice, but one day I’ll move to California and that will be the perfect life.” Recently, however, I thought about it carefully and realized that I actually love living in Florida – everything I need is here. But that contentment had been overshadowed by the idea that I always need something more, something better, to be happy.

Ultimately, of course, we must realize that the perfection we are searching for is not in this world, but the spiritual world, with Krishna. The more we practice contentment with what we have in this world, while simultaneously developing our connection with Krishna, the happier we’ll be. As Krishna himself says in the Bhagavad-gita: “One who is not connected with the Supreme can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”

Tags:
[ peace ] [ philosophy ]
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