I love this video of an Alan Watts talk. I’ve shared it before elsewhere, but its always worth revisiting. To me it says that happiness (or success, recognition, achievement) is presented as a product that we “save up” for. And what keeps us going, what motivates us, is that this happiness product is always close. Every time we reach a certain point in getting near to it the product moves away slightly, but we can accept it because we’re making progress.
At first Watts’ views seems to contradict the notion that the best years of our lives are at school, but in reality both of those ideas are along the same lines. Whether happiness (or whatever you aim for) is inextricably linked to a past period in life we all share, or something in the future we’re all striving for it’s still a “thing”. It’s a product, understandable, tangible. We either have it or we don’t.
In reality I suspect that nearly all of us are unhappy some of the time. Some of us may be unhappy a lot. But we’re probably a lot less happy when we see happiness as a thing or a product. Treating happiness as product detaches us from it. It’s much more outside our control. When happiness is a product it means that any slight unhappiness is a sign that we’re not happy at all.
It’s hard to fight this view of the happiness product. Products are the easiest things for others to sell to us. And once they’re in this form they can be cross-sold with anything, any other product we can imagine (the Perfect Body, the Dream Job). We’ll even buy into the promise that the happiness product is available years down the line, when we have the qualifications and the job and the family.
But striving for the happiness product makes us dis-satisfied with the happiness experience, and this is what Alan Watts is trying to get across. The reality is that the happiness product doesn’t exist. The happiness product is something so heavily over-sold that it costs more than anyone can afford. Which is all to say that happiness is being sold as diamonds, when actually it’s nothing more than air.