Thursday, July 19, 2018

Happiness Series: 10 - To Be Happy: Acknowledge Your Value

The Value Society Awards Us

In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of not hating yourself.

Today, I want to talk about the importance of acknowledging your value.

We live in a society that likes to act like some people are more valuable than others. This is a largely capitalist agenda, as in most cases, those who are productive and make a lot of money are seen as more important than those who are poor and unproductive.

Imagine the trolley problem, but there are only two two people on the tracks. One is a homeless man with no education, poor health and no home or job. The other is a well paid doctor with a big house and a family.

Deep down, most of us are conditioned to believe it is better to let the homeless man die. The doctor saves lives. He has a family. We have been taught it would be worse somehow if he dies. That society will be worse off, because the doctor was contributing more.

We are taught to put someone’s value to society over their value as individuals. However ‘value’ tends to be warped by consumerism. When we are shown what people hold value—by media—we are largely seeing people and lifestyles that encourage, even insist, we spend money and produce beyond our means.

Depending on your cultural background, the expectations you feel you have to live up to will vary. However there are likely to be some general crossovers.

For example, you are expected to be educated. You are expected to have achieved top grades and come from a good school. How often do you look at your old grades and feel ashamed? How often do you wish you had gone to a better university or college? That is proof of those expectations pressure on you.

If you are a woman, you are expected to have good make up game, but you will also be criticized for this, you are expected to dress well, be fit, to have a husband by a certain age, to be good at cooking, cleaning and to have an appropriate job, that you like. If you have children, you are expected to keep them clean, pretty, well behaved and have a house that people can drop by and visit any time.

Failure in any of these areas likely causes you anxiety, or draws criticism.

Men are expected to have good jobs, a good car, to be fit, to have a girlfriend or wife, to possess a range of skills, such as car maintenance, strength and primitive skills, like making fires, BBQing and building. Men are also expected to be knowledgeable on a range of things, to the point where I frequently see men lying to appear knowledgeable (pro tip, this is obvious to everyone) or even becoming panicked when a women knows more than them on a subject.

On top of these, there is also a lot of consumer based pressures we all feel, carefully designed and targeted at us by advertising. The need to have big TVs, new computers, fancy couches, well dressed pets and so on. Whatever product you feel will make you more impressive and less embarrassed to be yourself.

If you do not, or can not, meet these standards that society says deem you ‘worthy’, you will probably feel like shit. This might be, among other things, because you are poor, overweight, queer, old, physically or mentally unwell, working a shit job, homeless, uneducated, single, childless, unemployed, a loner, or even just have bad dress sense.

You feel like shit, because you know if it was you on the tracks, most people would choose to save the doctor instead of you. You know people see you as less, because that is how society has been conditioned to think.

The Inherent Value Of A Person

Are you friends with someone who is poor, overweight, queer, old, physically or mentally unwell, working a shit job, homeless, uneducated, single, childless, unemployed, a loner, or has bad dress sense?

Does that impact their value to you as a person? If you said yes, you might be a bit of an asshole. And by asshole, I mean bigot. You also might to revisit the term ‘friend’.

Anyway, I am sure most of you say no, that those things don’t impact how much you love your friends. Why would it? You aren’t friends with people because they are rich or thin, etc. You are friends with them because you like them, because they bring you joy, because you care about them.

I believe, we as a society, need to realize that people have inherent value regardless of what they contribute. That all people have equal value. This is very clear in the bible, God loves everyone equally, saints and sinners alike. However it is rarely practiced by Christians. However once we accept the inherent value of everyone, the idea that the life of the doctor who cured cancer is equal to that of a dying, disabled child in a third world country, the world opens up in a new way.

Suddenly the answer of what to do with refugees is clear. We treat them as we would honored guests. Same goes for any minority or marginalized group. This ideology doesn’t forgive criminals—though it does improve the justice system. People who hurt other people, should be removed from society, to keep everyone safe. But when all people are seen as equal, and holding equal value, the need to protect everyone is greater.

And once you accept this idea that all people are equally valuable, regardless of their accomplishments, you can step out from under the yolk of expectation. YOU are equally valuable to everyone else. No more, no less. You, exactly as you are, without changing anything, are equal to the people you most idolize… and most despise.

Maybe this ideology isn’t for everyone.

Maybe you agree with the need for ‘ranking’ people, from best to worst. If so, you are going to spend the rest of your life fighting to improve your score, and you will never be enough. Have fun with that.

The Value Of The People You Love

You probably have a lot of reasons for loving the people around you. I hope most of those reasons aren’t based on what they contribute to society. It might help you get your head around the concept if you wrote a list of all the things you love about your friends. Be specific. Here is an example list I wrote about several of my friends, all mashed together (for anonymity).

- Poop and fart jokes, so childish but always makes me smile.
- Hilariously hyperbolic love of cheese.
- Wants to support others at all costs.
- Gets teary when they read a sad animal story.
- Says they don’t like tomatoes, but eats a lot of tomatoes.
- Takes funny pictures of squirrels.
- Loves their pet SO much.
- Loves my dogs, treats them like little people.
- Does a cute frown when thinking hard.
- Always so happy to see me, makes me feel so loved.
- Such a complicated coffee order!
- Always sits in the lotus position.
- Loves bright colors.
- Can’t understand what they’re talking about, but they’re so intensely passionate about whatever it is.

These are random things I love about my friends. Things about them that make me smile. Things that I look on fondly, even if society deems them weird or useless.

If you write a few big long lists, of all the little, pointless things you love about people, you start to see what is really valuable. And that it is none of those things society claims it is. I never liked someone for their car. I never liked someone for their tight abs. I never liked someone because of the brand of makeup they were wearing.

I might be interested in those things because my friend is, but I had to like that friend first. And I probably like them because they love cats, or listened to me when I needed them. Until then, I couldn’t give a shit what car they brought.

When you have these lists written for your friends, you 1) start to appreciate and love them more, because you are actively noticing what you love about them, but 2) you realize conscious or subconscious, they have a list like this for you too.

And even if you know NO ONE and have no friends of family, you still have these traits. All the things that make up you, the quirks, the hobbies, the fears and loves and unique bizarreness, has inherent value.

You have value.

You are enough.

Exactly as you are now.

Moving Forward

Next week we start exercises! I’ve already mentioned exercises a few times and made some small suggestions, but over the coming weeks, the exercises are going to be focused, detailed and have a handy template to help you get started.

I really hope the past 10 weeks have given you a lot of insight into how your mind works and how our perceptions and beliefs affect our happiness. I hope they will give you a level of perspective that makes the exercises more productive and helpful to you.

I hope you are starting to re-assess your life and your values and already finding new sources of happiness, even if it was as simple as changing your mind.

Jake, In Summary:

As someone who is very driven by goals, its very easy for me to accept the value in others, and very hard for me to accept that I am enough, right now, as I am.

I am lucky to have a lot of supportive people in my life, who tell me what they admire about me. Which has, many times, saved me when I might have been lost to the sheer hopelessness of my chronic illness.

For a very long time I have believed there was no chance I would improve, that my life would be a slow decent, becoming more and more dependent until my illness killed me. As such, I have long been under the societal pressure that I was useless, a waste of resources, and the world (and my family) would be better off without me.

This is a daily reality for chronically ill people, be their illness mental or physical. It is an idea society reinforces every day. It is the voice that drives so many to end their lives: ‘You are not enough.’

Choosing to believe in the inherent value of people is like immunization. Your belief shelters others. It forms a wall of protection for people who otherwise might loose hope.

Some days it is easier for me to accept my own value than others, but I never doubt YOUR value. And that’s what lets us be strong for each other.

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