My mate Barn is with me this week and as always we have interesting discussions on all sorts of topics. Today we are thinking about success. I guess we all have an inner feeling of whether we have made it or not, many of us will feel maybe we aren’t quite what our parents might have hoped for. Maybe we don’t earn as much money as some or have expensive cars, homes and holidays as our neighbours.
It seems that society today judges success primarily on the basis of how much we consume. New expensive clothes, expensive haircuts, expensive bodies honed at the expensive gym and fed on expensive food these seem to be the outward signs of success. We don’t even have to earn it, you can win it on the lottery or inherit it, so long as you are spending and have all the right stuff you are doing well.
I remember whilst hitch hiking around the USA in my late teens having something of an epiphany. I was queuing up (or should I say standing in line) to be let in to a homeless hostel for food and a bed for the night. I found the experience very degrading and was feeling very sorry for myself but as we waited I realised that the other folk in the queue were no different to any other group of folk I had met anywhere. Despite having nothing there were the same proportion of happy jokey folk cheering everyone else up and down and miserable ones. George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” had originally given me the confidence to travel without money and regard life experience as valuable even tough experiences.
When I look at others today I judge folk as successful if they have achieved happy stable family homes to raise happy self confident kids. I judge people on how much they put back in to society, we all know folk in our communities that are always doing stuff for other folk, who are reliable, honest and follow through on promises. Other folk I admire work with kids taking them out on the hill or introducing them to craft or inspiring them in different ways, or work with the elderly, ill and disenfranchised of society. This work in turn seems to bring an inner fulfillment whereas those in pursuit of material success will always compare themselves to the 2% of the world that have more rather than the 98% that have less and so still feel badly done by. Our current incredible level of material wealth does not seem to create happiness or inner fulfillment.
The problem is that whilst intellectually I can take this position and encourage others to do so too when we come to judge ourselves (as we all do) it is hard not to acknowledge that by the standards of society today we are not really doing very well. I guess the only answer to that is we have to change the standards by which society judges success. Let’s get rid of gross domestic product GDP and go with gross domestic happiness GDH
Here’s a bit of Banksy