Due to social media, people are pushed more than ever to present immaculate versions of their lives. If you’re not living a picture perfect life, then you’re failing to live well.
From living a life like this, a lot of ego gets created. Egos clash, and people become competitive: my life is better than yours. I’m doing cooler things than you. Or: I’m not good enough. I’m not doing enough.
This kind of thinking, however subtle, can drive people to do strange things, things they’d never do on their own, but do them for recognition with a sense of competition.
This is in part the fault of a new style of advertising called lifestyle branding. More than ever before companies are trying to create ads that look like real life. And people are confused. They want their lives to be like that. Isn’t that the point of life, to be happy? To do what you want? To live a beautiful life?
Thinking like a Buddhist means moving away from this self-centered point of view. From a Buddhist perspective, the idea that life is about pleasure, how great you can make your life, is wrong-thinking. It’s wrong-thinking because to live life only on your own terms without considering the larger effects of your actions is not compassionate or thoughtful. It’s most likely just selfish. And selfishness causes harm.
I’ve found that purpose is what creates meaning in life for me. Essentially: working on something that matters to me and others, that makes an impact. This work can be as simple as a relationship, or as complex as a nonprofit. And after I have done my work (which lately is writing) I can feel free to have fun, without the burden of searching for deeper meaning in the fun, or proving that “my fun” is better than anyone else’s.
Many people envision a life like this, but aren’t sure how to get to. It’s because everything we’re pointed to is against that kind of life. Our economy is based on discontentment and distraction, about finding ways to make people spend more and be less present every year. There is no economy based on making people content and aware, because there would be nothing to sell.
A humble, thoughtful life is a good defense. Living simply, taking care of your needs rather than wants, realizing privilege, realizing how much you already have. It’s a good place to do real work from.
Safe within yourself, slowly threading a way through life, a person can feel good with very little. And genuine goodness like this only creates more.