I’ve been watching lately some Hollywood’s box office movies. I soon realized there were many similar messages they were sending to the young audience they are intended for, for example:
- Bullying individuals were pretty people, whether boys or girls.
- People with brains (not particularly keen on partying wild and showing off) were either ugly or ‘needed a makeover’ (needed to be fixed in one way or another).
- Promiscuous individuals are more popular and successful (mostly well off).
- Dressing as minimally as possible (especially if one has a great body) is a sign that the guy or girl is attractive, confident, sexy, cool, popular and successful, like a guy with his shirt off or a girl whose dress is open and short, etc.
These were some of the messages that jumped out at me repetitively as I was watching.
This has also brought me to think that perfecting all those requirements (great body, money, fancy clothes or cars, etc) to look and be successful or popular do not really lead to happiness. Most of the time, those perfect-looking people are looking for something that makes them feel complete inside. If they couldn’t find it, they constantly look for sedatives (a wild fling, drugs, pills, alcohol, etc.) to help them get through time, forget and move on. They also look ‘cool’ as they do so. So this does highlight the spiritual/emotional gap that results from their lifestyle and the daily choices they are making.
This led me to contemplate the difference between vanity and gratitude. I realized that being vain means contributing every blessing one has to oneself, such as saying to oneself: I am beautiful because I am better, I have a nice body because I am not lazy and I workout, I have a big house and a big car because I am successful and rich, I have a sexy partner because I wouldn’t settle with anything else, I have a career because I want power, I have children because I want others to see the great parent I am and that I am ‘on-top-of-it-all’, I have great health and I am powerful, etc. Meanwhile, as this sounds like self-confidence, it does also imply a great degree of vanity and superiority; like I am the origin of everything I am and have. What contradicts this idea, however, is that there are ‘other’ attractive, hard-working, ambitious, confident, and cool people who may not be as successful, rich, healthy, fertile, etc. as they are.
I believe we are constantly driven to believe that we are the cause of our own blessings, like the recent books titles implying that we are our own god, genie, diva, miracle-maker, etc. Whereas achieving one’s goals may lead to one’s happiness, it does not imply that the achievement of our goals ‘made possible’ was entirely attributed to us. What popular movies usually imply is that when you are, perfect-looking, sexy and smart, you are bound to succeed in life. On the other hand, I have seen and known real people with real lives who may just be doing a bit more than what those in movies do, and they may not look as 100% perfect as they do.
We are encouraged to believe that ‘things’ make us happy, but it is the opposite; it is us who bestow meanings upon things, and not vice versa. That being said, I don’t negate the psychological factor that does make us feel more confident when we achieve a goal, like having a great body, sexy clothes, wild friends, or being popular in our circle, etc. Yet, these are not happiness-making factors. Therefore, feeling vain because of the blessings you have does not mean you are happy or complete, especially that nothing is permanent in life; health, wealth, beauty, a successful career, etc. may be lost at any time, as we have seen during this recent recession, which has led a lot of people to fall prey to depression, mainly because when one sees oneself at the centre of that self-portrait, one is only focusing on one’s self and the fulfillment of one’s needs, wishes and desires. This emphasizes that one lives by oneself in this world, in isolation from others and ‘their’ needs and wishes that we can help them with. In other words, vanity thinking is seeking happiness through attaining proclaimed happiness requirements without seeing or caring for anyone else in the picture but oneself. It is the opposite of empathy, which growing our sense of self-worth and genuine happiness through seeking a noble life purpose through helping others and being attuned to their needs and wishes.
In coaching, coaches are encouraged to support clients to recognize blessings (minimal to bigger ones) in their daily life. They say it is proven in the science of the human psyche that feeling grateful significantly enhances one’s brain capability to think more productively and positively, and elevates negative emotions, like sadness, sorrow, anger, etc.
Feeling grateful means – even if you don’t believe that there is a God in the world who distributes blessings upon people – that you appreciate and count the privileges you have got, i.e. that you feel privileged because you have so and so of blessings that other people who are just as smart, successful, charming, attractive, healthy, fertile, well-off, etc. may not have. Therefore, when one gets oneself out of the centre of the fancy self-portrait one has drawn for oneself for years, and starts thinking that whatever one has is a privilege that deserves feeling grateful for. Then, one starts feeling that one has been endowed with them, and not ‘entitled’ to them.
This offers a fresh perspective on life and everything you have. If we believe we are entitled to what we have, we may take them for granted and become blind to the minimal and bigger privileges we have got. However, if we see everything we have as a privilege, then we start thinking positively about everything we consider about our lives, bodies, health, partners, etc. Simply because we start appreciating what we have, we grow our sense of satisfaction about it. This is where the feeling of gratitude develops. However, I’ve had someone asking me: But if I don’t believe there is a God in this world, who will I feel grateful for?
It was a pretty tricky question, because I personally do believe that there is a God in this world, and my feeling of satisfaction and gratitude towards everything He has blessed me with is the secret behind my resilience in life, despite all challenges. I pondered upon the guy’s question, then decided to ask him back: If you don’t believe there is a God in this world, who would you feel grateful for? It can’t be you who is the causing factor of everything you have got. For example, you were not the reason behind your good looks when you were born. Nor is it up to you to stop yourself from having cancer or an accident, because we have seen perfectly healthy people dying due to both of these despite their healthy, organic and safe lifestyles. If you didn’t die in an accident or by cancer, old age will do the trick. But how do you know until when you are going to live?
He was silent for a while, and contemplated my questions, then said: I definitely feel I am grateful for having what I have, simply as I see my friends don’t have half of what I have, even though we almost worked in the same companies and graduated from similar reputable universities. Then, we went on to talk about luck. This is definitely taking me away from the core subject of this article, but it was a conversation worth mentioning, as it helped us delve into deep thoughts and questions typically people – on the run – don’t bother themselves to think about.
All in all, vanity is feeling we ‘control’ what we have, and this is a false conception. The recession has taught us that nothing is fixed and permanent. Not only that, but also diseases, airplane crashes, earthquakes, etc. Vanity – or thinking one is the source of his/her own blessings – may lead one to severe depression if things do no go the way s/he intended them to do.
On the other hand, gratitude is appreciating and seeing life for what it is. This inspires us to see even the most mundane blessings as gifts that we did not sweat for. For example, silence at night is a great gift. I have lived in countries where building and constructions workers do not stop working on weekends or even in the evening when people put their kids to sleep. Other countries are war-stricken, and kids have to sleep despite sounds of bombs and gunshots that become a habitual happening in their neighborhoods. Not only silence at night, but on the weekends, in the evening, the ability to clearly hear birds singing early in the morning, the soft breeze that gently touches your cheeks as you stand in front of a water landscape, the beauty of nature, the cuteness of our kids, the genuine care of our loved ones, our ability to hear, see, touch and smell, etc. There is so much to be grateful for, and I do not believe we – people on the run – are the causing factor of them all. We are too busy to see these simple blessings but they are there. Believe it or not, it is us who can make the choice to appreciate them or not, to think that despite any hardships we may be going through there are still some good things to derive from them and to enjoy around us, and finally, I personally find the gift of life as the best gift ever, because every minute is a chance to turn oneself life around the way you want. This is an opportunity that is unavailable in any other domain in our lives (work, parenthood, commitments, loans, etc.)
What do you think?