If you search online for images of "progress" your screen will be flooded with bright red arrows pointing upwards and often right-wards ( right reflecting the western direction of reading and where we place the future). Progress is always comparative - how are we doing compared to others or to me this time last year etc.
The need to grow and improve ourselves is a very human need - but whether "ourselves" is defined as "me" or "my society / world" is cultural. Western societies are usually found to be individualistic, valuing "me" over "us all".
Research tell us growth is a key component of true happiness and what has become known as "Flourishing". Over the past decade the study of what makes us happy, known as "Positive Psychology" has itself flourished, and when it comes down to it, findings have identified 2 main ingredients:
1. Hedonic Happiness
I have mentioned these in previous newsletters but for newcomers to our group (WELCOME!) I will describe them both briefly here..
Hedonic Happiness (From which we get the term "hedonism") is the immediate gratification sort of happiness, the eat, drink and be merry style of living famously proposed by the Greek Epicurus.
Eudaimonic Happiness could best be described as a deeper contentment, meaningfulness or sense of satisfaction made famous by Aristotle. Eudaimonic happiness, unlike hedonia, is to be found through personal growth, striving and bettering oneself in relation to our values. It was, according to Aristotle, about becoming a better version of ourselves.
In modern Ireland and Western societies, our definition of "Progress" has mainly focused on having more - material wealth.
When working with individuals struggling with anxious or depressive thoughts, psychologists often encourage clients to ask themselves
"Is this thought useful"
rather than what we would usually ask ourselves
"Is this thought true?"
Whether or not material wealth is inherently good or bad is a matter of personal opinion and probably depends on how much of it we have. But in this Covid era, it would be USEFUL if we re-imagined our image of growth and our recipe for happiness to a flatter, more horizontal arrow of progress.
This would mean thriving by surviving, being satisfied with being able to put food on the table, holidays at home and more time with the family. Certainly, this will be temporary - it is impossible to quench the human desire to better ourselves materially or otherwise, to climb the ladder and head for the top of the heap. But it is not a useful goal if it isn't possible right now. Right now we probably need to take a sort of "Gap year" - a year out of aiming for growth upwards, and instead grow more spiritually, more socially, more collectively consciously - more horizontally.
We may find that it is only when the temptations of financial progress are no longer available to us, can we CHOOSE to at least TRY to focus on the things we say we value and a better world. It might turn out to be the Happiness Experiment of a Lifetime.
That's all for now. Take care, stay kind,