What is the source of happiness, content and fulfillment? The Amish perspective

Western economies and societies are designed to play ‘lets get more stuff’ to be happy

We can play the game of happiness-contentment-fulfillment (“HCF”) many different levels.  All of us flower in specific landscapes and those landscapes (societies / cultures) determine the HCF level that we automatically find ourselves playing  In the USA and the UK the HCF level has been and continues to be ‘get my hands on more stuff’: more money, higher paid job, more status/power, designer clothes, latest coolest consumer electronics, better car, second car, bigger/better house, second home, vacations, girlfriend/boyfriend, sex……

Why is trap kept in place even though evidence shows that ‘more stuff’ does not make us happier after a certain level of stuff

Why is this the case?  All of us who take part in this game assume (intuitively) that having more stuff will make us happy and the media is happy to supply the hypnotic suggestions to buttress and even create these assumptions.  Governments are happy to go along because making stuff that most of us do not need and which does not make us happy (and can often make us unhappy) provides jobs.  Jobs allow those in power to control the mass of humanity that is not in power.  If you take a look at the economic stagnation facing the West you will notice that less of us are partaking in the drug called ‘buying stuff’ and as a result less stuff is being made, shipped, sold and serviced.  As a result of that there are less jobs and more and more of us are finding ourselves without jobs.  As less and less of us have jobs (and job certainty) more and more of us are questioning the system and especially the privileges the powerful have granted themselves.  In turn the powerful strive to put in place mechanisms (laws, punishments, bribes) to put the powerless back to sleep.  If jobs were readily at hand then these harsh mechanisms would not be necessary.

What goes with being a fish?  The fish do not see the water that they are swimming in.  I could go further and say that the fish are oblivious to the action of swimming – in their world (of thinking and of experience) there is no such thing as swimming.  Put bluntly they do not have access to what they don’t know that they don’t know.  We are in exactly the same situation: ‘we do not know what we do not know’.  One access route to that which ‘we do not know that we do not know’ is interacting with people who are embedded in our reality – they have found themselves thrown into a different reality and take that as the natural way of living.  Which people are sufficiently similar and at the same time sufficiently different: the Amish. So it is with deep interest that I have been watching “Living With The Amish” on Channel 4.

Episode 4: The Amish perspective on happiness and contentment

It is fascinating to look at Amish culture and look at our culture through the eyes of the Amish.  There is so much that I have learned. And in this post I simply want to share with you a conversation between an Amish farmer (Harvey Burkholder, Episode 4) and one of the UK teenagers (George) who is staying with the Burkholder family:

George:  “Would you say you are content ………?

Harvey: “Yes”

George:  “Why is it that farming makes you so happy?”

Harvey:  “You can be happy in whatever you do.  The key to happiness is LOVE.  If you don’t have love, the opposite of love is anger and anger is depression.  If we live in anger or we live in doubt.  If a person lives in doubt he can’t be happy.

George:  “So do you feel having a simpler lifestyle is a key to happiness then?”

Harvey: “A simpler lifestyle plays a big part in happiness because stuff will not bring you happiness.  The more you gain, the more you have, the more you want.  Be content with where you are and with what you have.”

George: “David said yesterday that happiness comes from within.”

Harvey: “Exactly, 100% true.”

Episode 5:  The Amish perspective on riches and community

One of the UK teenagers is speaking with one of the Amish women and conversation takes place that I find fascinating as it discloses what we do not see (or actively ignore) and our society/culture actively downplays and hides:

UK teenager:  “Whilst I have been here I have noticed that everybody is an individual but you have come together to be a community where you value each single person and try very hard to make sure they stay in your community.”

Amish woman: “Riches are fleeting.  What is there to riches?  They can be gone overnight, it happens sometimes. So we do’t build on earthly riches or anything. We build a secure community for our children: the community of tomorrow. So when the children are older they will learn to work together for the good of the community.  And if the community is pulling together then you can really go places.”

My thinking

There is a huge difference between HCF (happiness-contentment-fulfillment) and a number of other phenomena like pleasure, ease, comfort, convenience, entertainment, status, power etc.  In our culture we confuse HCF with the latter – they are NOT the same. If you get this then you can give up the trap that we are automatically thrown into by virtue of flowering into the Western countries.  The door out of the trap is open, it has always been opening – we simply have not pushed on it and walked out.

Remember that money can buy you status and power – not HCF.  If this was not the case then the rich would not be unhappy.   Riches can be you pleasure, convenience, ease, comfort, convenience, entertainment etc – these are distinct from HCF.  The problem with stuff is that it only fills the hole inside (lack of HCF) temporarily – to keep the game going and not notice the lack of HCF you have to keep buying more stuff continuously.  And if you do get present to the fact that stuff does not fill the HCF hole then you turn to sex, drink and drugs.  If that does not work well enough then you take your own life.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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