Money and Electronic “Friends” Are They Real ?
“Seeing people floundering like fish in small puddles, competing with one another…fear came into me. The world was entirely without substance….Wanting a haven for myself, I saw nothing that wasn’t laid claim to. Seeing nothing in the end but competition, I felt discontent.”
This comment could be written with meaning today, right now. It has strong relevant meaning in 2015. The reality of experiencing social conditioning that you are nothing of worth unless you have wealth or fame is a common theme of our modern society – a modern society of electronic communications, stock market frenzy, immense GREED, multiple murders by gunfire, credit card debt (“hungry ghosts'”), bankruptcy by medical debt (greed), fear of the future, and ultimate personal and spiritual loneliness. Yes, I think the terms personal and spiritual loneliness frame what many people struggling in today’s economic realities might call their norm. The social fabric of a caring culture is fast disappearing (one against all, you are on your own), and the need to depend on others for psychological and financial survival is fast becoming our reality. These harsh experiences appear to be strongest for the 18 to 35 years old age group, as well as for the elderly. Researchers now suggest that extreme unhappiness and severe social isolation may be at least as potent a cause of death as cigarette smoking and obesity. Chronic loneliness may also increase risks for experiencing chronic stress, high blood pressure, alcoholism, depression, anxiety and suicide. The few at the top (1% of all) now own between 45%-50% of the world’s wealth. A Boston College survey found that people with net worth of $78,000,000 (yes- that was seventy-eight million dollars) experienced anxiety, fear, dissatisfaction, and loneliness. These “poor” people thought that owning 25% more might relax their concerns about future security. In the age of radical hedonic individualism, “I” “ME” ‘MINE” seems to be all that matters. Surveys of young people echo the theme – about 40% desire wealth and fame as their life goals. Me-First Entitlement may be the core norm today. Research on executive compensation versus full-time workers now shows a huge disparity: in 2007 this pay rate was 47 times higher, but in 2014 it is 120 times higher. GREED! GREED! GREED! SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! Also, inflated insurance company and healthcare CEO salaries/benefits of the top largest corporations show an average of over $7,000,000 a year. Some are higher! The next time a health insurance company refuses to pay for your health care needs, request that the CEO (or CFO) donate the cost from the remarkable salary levels. I often wonder what our economic quality of life would be IF we eliminated this level of greed at the top of our corporations. My guess is that we all would be MUCH better off. Social and economic inequality destroy the social fabric of culture, generate resentments, and may cause violence.
Social media (“cell phone envy”) and watching television (or internet electronic connectivity) are fast becoming our primary interaction with others. University of Milan researchers found that social media norms, ads and watching TV also reinforce the economic hedonic hamster cages of our age. The false message is implied repeatedly that wealth bring happiness. “Only if I had … then I would be happier!” Despite many, many studies showing just the opposite, so many people today really believe that money leads to happiness. Of course it is true that poverty brings misery and suffering, but it is NOT true that wealth by itself brings joy and happiness. The bliss of relative contentment disappears once you use your cell phone or TV and see just how bad off you are comparatively; now you are bombarded by the norms of greediness and competition to be something you are not. Or you may do so for the desired attachment of social reinforcement – someone, something on the other end of that connection may reinforce you and fire off dopamine in your brain’s reward centers. There is a sort of “cellphone envy” that comes with interacting to be reinforced. One of my psychologist colleague calls the modern cell phone a “dopamine delivery device.” He is quite correct! Research now supports that 25 years of mobile phone use does increase the odds ratio of brain tumor risks. The advent of texting, pecking at a phone’s keyboard (Skinnerian tapping is more potent in conditioning than talking), may reduce the risk of brain tumors, but it may also dramatically increase the risk of conditioned habit-formation. Can you experience happiness and social satisfaction WITHOUT your cell phone, TV, or wealth? Many people believe they cannot. They are poorly resourced in self and spiritual skills for living. There is hope!
The way out of this hedonic trap is working hard to live a reasonable and satisfying life – but NOT seeking the goal of happiness in dollars. This is a false path, a false “god.” The Middle Way again appears to be an answer for consideration. Be more moderate in everything, including your personal pursuit of THINGS, wealth, electronic friends, and personal fame. Meditate, walk, be mindful, do yoga, practice tail chi or qi gong (chi kung), be loving kindness, and activate more compassion for others. Be a kind person as well as a competent person. While you are in this much healthier spiritual pathway, work on your own self-compassion for the suffering you have had and will have. Allow joy to visit you gently. True happiness is not far away; it is inside you now. Just give it a chance to thrive. When you follow these practices, you may become a highly valued person. Others may enjoy and like you.
For more information refer to: Caring-Lobel, A. (January 20, 2015). The economy of salvation. www.tricyle.com. Buddhism and debt. (2015). Tikkun, 30(1), p.35. Anderson, P. (November 13, 2014). Long-term cell phone use linked to brain tumor risk. www.medscape.com. Monbiot, G. (October14, 2014). The age of loneliness is killing us. The Guardian. www.theguardian.com.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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