Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ego and Self-Esteem are Traps

Kristen Hamling Photo/File
Kristen Hamling Photo/File
by Kristen Hamling: NZ Herald:

The last article on our Happiness Journey questioned the resilience of children today - and it generated some interesting discussion among my friends and family.

So much so that I am inspired to write more thoughts on the subject.

You'd think that more prosperity, advancing technology, living longer, material wealth, and generally more stuff would be a good thing, yeah?

It seems not. Some reports have shown that we are no happier now than a few generations ago. So what is going on?

After reading last week's article, a wise friend told me about the movie This Way Of Life, which has resonated deeply with people all over the world.

Filmed in the Ruahine Ranges, it focuses on a family who are embracing a more natural life, not getting caught up in the materialistic hype of the 21st century.

They are deeply connected to nature, and their family - including six kids - is the most important thing to them. I get the sense that they are doing something very right.

Although this is not a movie review, I think it provides a beautiful platform to discuss a few other points related to how we are living nowadays.

This family does not have a lot of "stuff", but what they do have more than makes up for a lack of iPads, sparkly shoes and trips to the aquarium or zoo. They spend time with each other. Lots and lots of time. They play outdoors and hunt their meat.

The parents constantly model in themselves the sorts of character traits they believe are important for their children. They honour and respect the strengths and individual differences in their children, and they have an abundance of gratitude, focusing on what they have versus what they don't have.

In the movie, the father is asked what he does for a living. He chortles and responds: "What do you mean 'What do I do for a living'? ... live for a living."

He then asked the film-maker: "Do you mean 'what do I do for an income?'" I love that he was almost incredulous at the question.

This is probably a good question for us all to consider - what do we do for a living? How much of our ego and self-esteem is based on our income, the car we drive, the type of job we have, the clothes we wear? Is that really living?

What is most important to you and what brings you most pleasure, meaning and purpose (aka: gutsy happiness)? In future articles, I hope to crystallise in your mind what is most important to you - and inspire you to go after it.

For one thing, I have been trying not to get caught up in what advertisers say will make us happier. Case in point: I saw an advert the other night on TV where a jewellery store had a 50 per cent off sale claiming that this would make people 50 per cent happier.

I screamed at the TV: "You clearly haven't read the research." I immediately wanted to write to the advertiser.

I remind myself over and over: I am no closer to gutsy happiness after some new purchase. Nor are my children lastingly happier after the purchase of a new toy, a new outfit or a new iPad app than when I spend time with them kicking a soccer ball, playing at the beach or throwing rocks into a river.

I have finally been able to stop buying toys, adding more and more stuff to our lives. But it has been really hard to not get sucked into the hype of consumerism.

Another inspiring moment in the movie was a comment by the father about how we make our choices and decisions. He talks about his life philosophy and how "it helps you to make decisions based on a conscience rather than rules".

Increasingly, we are creating rules to keep us safe, to make people do the right thing, and protect us from litigation. But what decisions are we making from our own conscience?

Studies show that people are far more motivated when their choices are made without external influence and interference but on their own internal drive for autonomy, competence and connection to others. The further we get away from decision-making with a conscience, the more rules we need - it's a vicious circle, if you ask me.

What are we doing for our kids that stands in the way of their future character strengths? All food for thought this week.

A registered psychologist with a masters in applied psychology, Wanganui mother-of-two Kristen Hamling is studying for a PhD in positive psychology at Auckland University of Technology.

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