I just witnessed someone in an SUV slam into the back of a stationery big, bright yellow school bus in a 25 mph speed limit in a school zone. "Hey, who put that school bus there?!"
I'm now thinking about suing the driver of that SUV for the psychological trauma that witnessing the crash exposed me to, but that's another story. Just kidding (Hey, a lawsuit like that actually happened in L.A.!). But how did that driver manage to do that?
People often go through life like they drive: trying to do too many things at once and resultantly doing everything half-assed. I regularly see drivers swerving around aimlessly, often almost crashing, and when I overtake them, yep, they have a cell phone in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, and/or using the rear-view mirror as a vanity mirror.
Sheer lack of focus- no concentration on the moment- is what caused that unbelievably avoidable crash... and this chronic lack of focus is also the root of most discontent today. Everyone seems very busy to point the finger at their children, and accuse them of having ADD (an entirely made-up 'diease'), when adults don't seem much better. (Sidebar: Maybe the parents should be the ones made to take ADD meds. Or maybe parents should stop giving their kids artificial food and unlimited sodas before they complain about kids having ADD. But I digress...)
A friend of mine in California recently drove his cell phone out to the desert, took a gun out, and shot it. Perhaps a little extreme but he's now one happy guy. Conversely, more and more people now see the need to walk around with a hands-free receiver strapped to their ear, and look like one of the 'Borg' in Star Trek (when those things first came out I thought it was a device for some kind of mental handicap). So what? Well, it's indicative of what I'm saying here: 'multi-tasking' has become the goal in modern life... and we've never been taking anti-depressants at such a high rate. We're stressed like never before...
But once again, is this reality or our perception of reality? Is the stress perceived or actual? Does multi-tasking make us happy or is it our imagination playing tricks again?
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The quest for happiness is quite simply our reason for being, our ultimate goal, the answer to the eternal question: "Why are we here, what's my purpose, and what's the meaning of life?" Once upon a time, simply surviving was our reason for being, so we've come a long way.
Focusing on the moment- perceiving the situation correctly- is essential to achieve happiness. If we're playing with our kids, the only thing that matters at that point in time is giving them our undivided attention, praise and love. Likewise, if we're out to dinner with our spouse, we should treat it like a first date, with all the respect and appreciation that goes with that. When we're in a business meeting or anything to do with work, the same applies.
This is, in effect, is the art of meditation, the art of being present. There's nothing clever about doing twenty things at once- usually just the opposite. When twenty things at once come at you in life, just prioritize and calmly deal with it one thing at a time, your full and appropriate attention on each. As a former airline captain, I can tell you from experience, that's precisely how professionals are drilled to deal with a crisis.
The scientist, Maslow, long considered the grandfather of modern psychology, identified this idea of taking things one step at a time on a grander scale with his "Hierarchy of Needs" as shown in order of priority from bottom to top. (source: Abraham Maslow.com)
Translated from top to bottom:
Self Actualization: Acceptance of facts, creativity, problem solving, lack of prejudice.
Esteem Needs: Achievement, respect of others, confidence, ego needs.
Physiological Needs: Food, water, breathing, sleep, etc.
The thesis is simple: humans aren't interested in, and/or aren't capable of achieving, the level above unless the level below is satisfied.
Humans tend to prioritize their requirements as shown above. We're not interested in the level below unless the one above is satisfied; clearly, we won't be thinking about where our next meal is coming from if our lives are in danger just as we're not interested in friendship if we're hungry and cold.
As we evolved as beings, each of the levels of the hierarchy became more and more taken for granted. At each stage, we never once looked back at how far we'd come, and thought ourselves lucky. It's in our nature to just want more and more. After a baby has learned the words 'Mama' and 'Dada', the third world is often 'More'.
So, looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, in our world, survival, food and shelter are pretty much taken for granted- we don't give a second of our day contemplating gratitude for this. But most of us in the US have fulfilled the bottom two of the hierarchy (safety and food and shelter), so by the same token, most of us are ready to realize the next need: love and friendship. As a result, most of us have lovers and friends.
So the next level up from there is 'Esteem Needs'. With our health intact, a roof over our heads, and a spouse at our side, we arrive at this level, and this level is where most people find themselves in a daily struggle as our egos fight for recognition and respect, making a name for ourselves. Millions of egos all battling for an increasingly scarce resource these days: admiration and respect.
But the ego is never satisfied, it will always crave more. And give you more stress in the quest to feed it. The only way out of this rut is to break through to the next and penultimate level...
That only leaves the top level on the hierarchy of needs. The one most elusive to us: self-actualization- finding purpose and meaning in our lives.
"Why am I here?"
We constantly ask ourselves that question both consciously and subconsciously but there never seems to be an answer. We look around at our lot in life and ask "Is this all there is?" At the same time, the world talks and wonders about phenomena such as obesity, alcoholism, stress, road-rage, and depression being the modern diseases without ever seeming to make the link. Just as a boy joins a violent street-gang out of frustration for not gaining love and friendship, increasing amounts of others find themselves suffering from one of these modern diseases for not failing to attain the final level of self-actualization.
So how do you achieve self-actualization? In a word, by destruction of the ego, consciousness of one's actions, self-awareness.
But what of this question that tortures us so much, and in some instances drives us to insanity, death, and destruction? The question "Why am I here?"
Well, I can make a start, and give you what I believe is a BIG clue to the answer...
Since man walked the planet, he has been creative- he has produced things. It seems to be the inherent and lasting key to man's personal satisfaction whether it's building a house, producing a child, or writing a poem. Or discovering fire.
You can only answer such a difficult question in a broad fashion like this. Each of us are unique and that certain something that represents meaningful activity to us is different for each of us as a result, but I believe that at the heart of everyone's personal dream is creativity in some form or another. We thrive on creating something, doing something, and seeing an end product.
Think about this: When we were small children, we were happiest when we were busily engaged building, painting, playing games, and inventing- creating and seeing an end product. And of course, our childhood represents our true selves that we need to recapture in order to each find meaning and purpose, so this fact about children's habits is an important clue in answering why we're here.
Does the average job of today feed this inherent need to create? Sometimes? But does the average job of today give an individual the freedom of self-expression that is so essential with personal creativity? Even if you are 'lucky' enough to have a job that provides you with a level of creative expression, you're usually compromised and restricted in some form unless you work for yourself. And even then, the marketplace restricts what you create if you want to actually make any money.
I could go on forever quoting the type of work most people are engaged in today. Needless to say that the average employee is highly unlikely to find meaning and purpose from their job, and will resultantly be unhappy at a deep level. Why do you think people have never changed employers as much as they do now?
This is why I also encourage you to gain enough wealth to break free of the grind, at least this way you'll have the freedom to find your dream and express your creativity in some form. You see, wealth and happiness are not contrary, but rather very complimentary to a large degree when you appreciate the freedom money can give you through the combination of reducing what you spend and creating a passive income (one that requires minimal input).
Not only that, but the very act of going into business for yourself is an expression of your creativity. Now I'm not talking about a glamorized form of wage-slavery such as a self-employed laborer, but rather coming up with an original idea and nurturing it from conception to production. Or writing down a plan and watching it transform from a piece of paper to a bustling office where you're the boss.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I was in a department store later on the same day I saw the car crash. A woman carrying an infant blazed towards me, cursing under her breath, a face like thunder. "Get out of my way!" she hissed at me. I'd done nothing to her apart from get between her and the exit, I don't know why she was so angry. The infant in her arms was laughing though as he watched me blur past, evidently enjoying the fast thrill ride. I think we can learn a lot from children, they seem to know how to just enjoy the ride.
If life's getting you down, consider your place in Maslow's hierarchy, and fight the appropriate fight. And who knows? You may just be sleep deprived, and be way down the bottom.