Growing up in the Murphy household, my parents had three major rules;
1. No police to the door.
2. No drugs.
3. No pregnancies from or by anyone.
That was it, no more, no less. As long as we abided by these rules, my brother and sisters and I were essentially free to explore the world and try new things. Building on these rules, my parents always asked one question; Are you happy?
Growing up, I never understood the significance of the question, and the impact it would have on me later in life. What a message for my parents to impart, happiness. They were never the parents who pushed us to be extraordinary in a way they saw fit, they were parents who pushed us to be happy, and, the older I get, the more I try to enforce this way of thinking on myself.
I have friends who’s parents want them to be happy, as long as they’re doctors. I have colleagues who’s parents want them to be happy, as long as they go to law school. I have peers who’s parents want them to be happy, as long as they have a mortgage and finance on a car. I have a lot of friends, colleagues and peers who appear somewhat unhappy.
In a society that seems designed to create unhappiness, why is it so hard for so many to make choices that would lead to happiness? We have this intense pressure in society to consume, to consume everything at an exorbitant rate. Nice food, shiny cars, big houses, high powered jobs, extensions on our big houses to make them bigger, the biggest television that gives us the clearest picture of nature when all we really have to do is look outside, smart phones, tablets, music players, designer clothes, fad diets, huge gym memberships, we’re a society of people who fear not consuming in case we’re judged by other consumers. We fear happiness because many of our friends don’t want to be happy they want to appear happy.
My parents were never like this. They never spent lots of money when I was a kid because we simply didn’t have it. We were by no means poor, but with six mouths to feed every day, money had to be monitored and we weren’t the sort of children who needed electronics to be entertained. My parents never let us go without, and not a single day in my childhood did I feel anything was missing because my parents emphasised the importance of education, reading, writing, learning and creativity. More than sharing genes, my brothers and sisters and I are all huge fans of reading. There’s rarely a conversation goes by at a family gathering were the four of us don’t end up discussing books, and more often than not we end up reading the same books at the same time so we can discuss them together. We never had access to the internet in our home because it was deemed an unnecessary luxury and I think we’re all a lot happier today because of it. I know I have developed skills and attributes my younger peers don’t have because parenting is becoming more about secondary consumerism than it is imparting real values.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is by the wonderful writer John Krakauer;
“My hunger to climb had been blunted, in short, by a bunch of small satisfactions that added up to something like happiness.”
As young people we have a little room to manoeuvre in terms of happiness. Young people are encouraged to “get it out of your system” as long as we’re young, meaning we are not overly judged if we experiment. But what about when I hit thirty? Am I expected to marry, mortgage and debt my way through life until I can retire? Will this make me happy? I don’t believe it will. I don’t want to replace my passions with small satisfactions only to find myself miserable, I don’t want to appear happy I want to be happy.
As a man I have even more room to manoeuvre my own happiness, I’m “allowed” to be a bachelor until the day I die. However, the pressure we still put on unmarried women today is abhorrent. I have some very close female friends who never go a week without being asked about pregnancy and marriage. Even though we seem to celebrate powerful women (and I really do!) society still has a monopoly over them and the rest of us. We are always going to be victim to expectation.
I will never fit into a box. I don’t want children. I don’t want a mortgage because I don’t need one right now. I don’t want a car because I don’t believe as a species we need them, public transport saves the environment. But the shock and horror you receive for not falling into place, even with these the simplest of life factors is a miserable state of affairs.
Growing up, I was told to be happy, and that’s exactly what I am. I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, I can’t do mathematics to save my life and I’ll probably never win a Nobel Prize. I may never be on Forbes magazine for being a consumer and people may never consider me to be anyone of great importance. But does it matter? I am important, and I am happy. I think we need to take a good, long look at our society and begin the transition into an age of happiness as opposed to the age of electronically enhanced consumerism we currently find ourselves in.