You are not completely content with your life. You may arise in the morning for work, and reflect upon how your never-ending cycle of “work-eat-sleep”, with its brief moments of desperate fun on weekends and vacations, hardly leads to fulfillment. You see no end to this unless you are “lucky” enough to live until retirement age, become someone considered to be no longer of any use to society, and can finish out your existence with dulled wits and enfeebled body. A lifetime of servitude rewards you with a period of slow decay, while awaiting your inevitable death.
You may be one of the very few who earns a substantial income and, if you could apportion it out at the same rate as the average person, would be able to live out your life without working: but your chosen lifestyle requires more than that, and your expenses prohibit an early retirement. Besides, why take a step backward, when you can keep moving forward? Of course, you have the uncomfortable feeling that this is actually a vicious circle, and as you increase your income, you will increase your expenses; so that in all likelihood, you will be pursuing an unreachable goal. If you are eventually able to break the cycle, you’ll have the opportunity to retire early, and look back on a life spent chasing an elusive objective: but is this brief period of respite, worth the price of living most of your finite life under the stress of driving yourself toward greater and greater success?
You may find solace in your religion, and feel that it brings you contentment: but in reality, you wouldn’t require the promise of a better existence beyond death, unless your present life was somewhat less than perfect. If you were fulfilled by the physical world, there would be no need to dream of receiving an ultimate ethereal reward for enduring corporeal existence. Having a feeling of serenity now, due only to believing that you will actually have it upon death, is not only insensible: it means that your greatest priority in life is to die.
Most of the unhappiness people experience can be attributed to our preoccupation with materialism. We are trained to work toward accumulating “things”, and our lives revolve around the competition involved in pursuing this futile quest. We search for the happiness we are conditioned to expect from conforming to this artificial ideal, yet we rarely feel adequately rewarded for investing our entire lives trying to attain it. If you are like almost all other people, you are never going to be rich, you will never win the lottery, and your “golden years” will not be a time of carefree leisure. If you are one of the rare individuals who is in a position of power, then you are still enslaved by your occupation: and are controlled by the wishes of your boss, shareholders, electorate, or subjects. Due to the very structure of human society, we are all caught up in our abstract manifestation of the hunt.
The materialistic system depends upon convincing people that, through devoting their lives to their work, they will eventually be rewarded with wealth; and subsequently, freedom. This, of course, is impossible: such a system would be self-defeating. Allowing a significant percentage of the population to attain self-sufficiency and then withdraw from the workforce, would eventually collapse the structure, by removing the foundation: which is the large majority that does the actual work. To provide motivation, the masses must always be slightly underpaid, with the cost of living increasing at a rate sufficient to offset wage increases. This is easily accomplished, because we use money to symbolically represent labour; and since its value is discretionary, purchasing power can be reduced through devaluation, taxation, and inflation. In this way, even the wealthy are forced to keep fueling the system, because the relative value of their resources continually declines.
Creating this material methodology has allowed us to have a universal and functional way of controlling mankind. Keeping the goal always just out of reach, keeps everyone obediently following the same path. Permitting an insignificant few to attain wealth, instills a belief in the billions of others that they too, could succeed. The fact that generation after generation conforms to the system means that it is self-perpetuating; with the members of society conditioned to think only one way, because they lack exposure to any possible alternative. Due to this, no direct interference by individuals is required: thousands of years of development has made the process self-correcting, and an imbalance in one area, is countered by a reaction in another. Functionality is inherent to the system, in a way similar to how an organism responds without conscious input: a virus causes damage to the body, and the cells of the system respond to correct the problem. The components of the whole blindly react, to restore balance.
Our materialistic way of life combines cooperation, competition, and obedience into a somewhat contradictory, and generally inequitable, system of managing our species. Although far from satisfactory, it is the best method currently functional; and therefore, for most of us, it is a system we cannot escape. We must work in order to provide ourselves with the necessities of life, which requires that we participate in the physical aspects of materialism: but as individuals, we are under no obligation to participate in the spiritual, or mental, aspects conditioned into us by society.
The majority of people see financial success as a representation of their value as a human being. Every minor success or failure in the workplace affects their attitude towards life, and because of the nature of competition itself, there will always be more perceived negative events, than positive. This is due to three factors: - remaining at the same level of success eventually leads one to see it as a failure to advance - a setback that leaves a person below their highest level of progression, yet is still above what is needed for a comfortable existence, is nevertheless seen as failure - due to the aforementioned “motivation by design”, one will almost always fail to reach their goal. This means that participation in the mental side of materialism will have primarily negative psychological consequences. Believing that your job symbolizes the person you are, has an overall negative connotation; because defining oneself by occupation, is defining oneself as a slave to others.
Permitting the pursuit of money to rule one’s life, is contrary to happiness in general. Couples argue about finances, more than any other topic. People allow occupational stress to affect the way they treat their family, and neglect them due to demands made upon their time by the workplace. Individuals are willing to compromise their moral values in the competition for advancement; and will cheat and lie for their employer, as well as belittle and betray fellow workers who they perceive as competitors.
To begin to break the mental conditioning that is a part of the materialistic ideology, one must consider several questions. Does money equal happiness? Is it your goal to be rich, or to be comfortable? Does accumulating wealth, so that you can die with the most assets, equal victory? Is the quest for financial success worth the physical, mental, and moral costs?
We know that happiness is purely a mental state, and is not dependent upon the physical world. One can be miserable while sleeping in a castle, and another can be content while sleeping under the stars. Your attitude governs how you feel about your situation in life. If you believe that you cannot be happy without getting an extravagant house, or buying a luxurious automobile: then your belief has made it impossible for you to be satisfied with anything less. In addition, you are assuming that those material things will actually bring you gratification; yet because you desire these symbols of competitive advantage, you are consequently a victim of the system, and the satisfaction they bring must be temporary.
Is it necessary to attain great power and wealth, or do you simply want enough to free yourself from worrying about being able to pay your bills? All you truly need to ensure that you have the opportunity to be happy, without financial concerns interfering with your thoughts; is adequate food, shelter, and clothing, with perhaps some little extraneous pleasures. The problem is that most individuals confuse “enough”, with the things we use to demonstrate our material superiority over others: because of this, these people will never believe that they have reached a level of comfort. Owning an automobile to provide transportation can be considered a necessity in many parts of the world: but desiring a more expensive car, because you feel that yours appears too old, cheap, or unattractive; confirms that you are really more concerned about what it symbolizes to others, than what it is actually used for. A home to provide shelter need only be a functional requirement, yet people use the size of their house as a representation of their financial success: although they may go deeply in debt, in order to give this impression.
Competing in a game where you try to accumulate the most wealth over your lifetime, is rather a pointless endeavor; when the ultimate prize is death. People often try to justify this conduct, by claiming that they wish to leave a legacy for their children. It is rather obvious that this actually rarely occurs. The many generations of your family that preceded you, still left you in a position where you have to follow the same pattern of behaviour: centuries of effort made little difference to the overall result. If people did start to succeed at freeing future generations from the materialistic system, the system would adjust to prevent its failure. Persons who follow this pattern of lifelong desire for success, are generally motivated by the competition for gain, rather than the tangible gain itself: they cannot have “enough”.
What price must you pay, in order to participate in the contention for money? What cost do you extract from those around you? Everyone should take the time to contemplate on the number of times they have treated their family or friends unkindly, because occupational concerns have led to ill-temper. All people should think about the opportunities lost, due to workplace demands on their time: the missed chances to experience the camaraderie of friends, and the shared love of partners and children. How do you justify the morality of sabotaging the careers of fellow employees, in order to further your own? You cannot say that it is because you are putting the needs of your family foremost: your family already comes second to your job. The people dear to you are more concerned about the time spent with the person they care for, rather than your occupational status. If you feel that people only love you because of your drive for money, then you must also believe that either you have no other redeeming qualities, or it is your income, and not you, that is loved.
Your attitude toward life, and work, is the key to removing the stress that is inherent to materialism. You are not truly a servant to others: you work because it is a requirement of the society we live within; and by participating in the system, you receive the resources that enable you to provide for your needs. You are not competing to demonstrate symbolic financial superiority: your life is much more than that. In other words, you work only in order to enable yourself to appreciate a life unhindered by worries related to your basic needs. Your role is not to be the tool used by your employers to fulfill their desires for power and money: rather it is to trade a set amount of your time, effort, and thought; for a set remuneration.
You must learn to separate work, which is an illusion of slavery; from life, which is your experience of reality: the two must be completely detached from one another on a mental level. Being enslaved by your occupation is a perception imposed upon you by circumstances, while in reality, you are free to think as you please: you define yourself by the experience of existence, and not by the implications of society. You are morally obligated to do your best at, and focus your attention on, the work you are paid to do while at your job: this is your social contract with your employer. Concerning yourself only with doing your job to the best of your ability, while in the workplace, accomplishes two things: it gives you the opportunity to succeed at your profession, and it fulfills all reasonable obligations you have to your employer. Personal problems should never intrude upon your thoughts or actions at work, just as things related to your occupation should not enter your mind, when you are “off the payroll”. Any violation of this principle blurs the clear distinction you must make between life, and employment.
What if you find it difficult to separate thoughts of work from your personal life, due to the fact that you hate your vocation; and poor working conditions, low pay, and/or obnoxious supervisors cause you so much stress, that you cannot simply let it go at the end of the day? Hate, like happiness, is also an intangible mental state which only exists within your own consciousness: external events can provoke the emotion within you, but you alone sustain it. Hatred of your occupation is misplaced frustration. Your job may be such that you are not adequately compensated for the duties required of you: but that is the nature of the position, and changing the situation is your responsibility. You choose to participate in the social contract with your employer, and you determine whether you find another job, or improve your present one. If that requires bettering your skills or attitude; or simply applying for a position elsewhere: it is still you who can affect your destiny. Hating a situation you ultimately control, is projecting your frustrations onto something unrelated to emotion, when in reality the source of your anger is your own reluctance to do something about it. You may live in a country where your options are few, and all job opportunities are bleak. This does not change the fact that your negative emotions are still within you, and the choice is yours as to whether you go through life being miserable, or accept that your situation cannot be changed at this time, and those feelings can only do you harm.
When negative emotions affect you at work it is much easier, and healthier, to substitute more appropriate feelings, over attempting to repress the unwanted ones. Suppose you have a supervisor who unjustly berates you at every opportunity, and is never satisfied with your performance. You have determined that this is not due to your being incompetent, but that he is simply a horrible person. Hating this man accomplishes nothing positive, for you now have feelings that make you miserable, while he is unaffected. Your foul mood may have self-defeating consequences in your dealings with coworkers, friends, and family; whereas your supervisor expects you to hate him, because he believes that this is an effective way to motivate employees. The logical attitude to have regarding this person, is one of pity. Such people have a life of frustration and stress, with a form of behaviour that can only lead to problems in their personal lives. They must always have a feeling of inadequacy because the fact that their duties invoke such extreme emotions, indicates there is a sense of desperation in their actions. Their life is their job; and if this alone does not inspire compassion, consider what events in this person’s past have shaped them into such doleful adults.
The same principles apply to offensive coworkers. Whether you feel pity due to their obsession with monetary gain, at any personal cost; or because their incompetence in the workplace suggests a lack of depth to their character: their lives lack real meaning. In situations where you dislike people who seem to succeed in spite of their being far less conscientious than yourself; consider that you are more likely to be experiencing envy, than any other emotion. You may say that it is the injustice of it all: but in the day-to-day affairs of man, our abstract perception of justice has no substance. What you see as unfair, another sees as equitable. In reality, it really does not matter if someone else gains with minimal effort, or even fails with a greater effort: worrying about the inevitable discrepancies in the workplace is pointless. The exception to this rule concerns ethics: if the actions of individuals have the potential to cause significant harm to others, then it should matter to you. Compromising your moral values for your occupation is a “slippery slope”, where sliding further down is far easier than returning.
You may have what you consider to be the ideal job: perhaps as a field biologist whose task it is to wander in mountain meadows counting butterflies, and it so happens this is exactly what you like to do in your free time as well. Wonderful: it should be very easy to avoid stress in your life, with the added bonus of being aware that you are one of the very few to be so fortunate. Now let’s say that you enjoy your occupation because competition and predation fulfill your animal desires: not because of a sociopathic disorder or psychological repression, but due to the instinctive need to demonstrate that you are an Alpha male, or female. Be careful that you are not validating natural behaviour, by using artificial criteria. Gregarious creatures do not prey on members of their own group, nor do they function outside of the boundaries set by psychological altruism. A few lions bring down the prey, but the entire pride shares in the bounty. In aboriginal cultures that existed separate from materialism, such as the North American Plains Indian, the tribe shared its resources: if game was scarce everyone went hungry; but all partook of what there was. In pack mentality, one member does not hoard resources.
Many people insist that they are only aiming toward having enough to live comfortably, yet their standards are based upon comparing themselves to others who are more successful. There will always be people who are better at managing their money, just as there will always be those who benefit from the quirks of fate. Rather than concerning yourself with the fact that your friend can afford better clothes, or an exotic vacation; try comparing your lifestyle to that of the billions of people who will live out their existence, never knowing a day without hunger. It is far better to appreciate what you have, than it is to desire the things you really do not need.
Work is an aspect of your life, but it is not “the meaning of life”. You must accept that a portion of your existence will be devoted toward acquiring what you need, and not necessarily what you desire. When you become obsessed with fulfilling materialistic wants, your occupation becomes essential to this chosen direction in life: hence you are enslaved by your desires and, consequently, your job. When you see your employment as only an instrument used to enable you to experience life without worrying about basic needs, you are freed from a major type of control others exert upon you.
Do your best at your work as a matter of personal pride, and out of a sense of moral obligation to the social contract you have entered into: in this way, any job is self-rewarding, rather than mere servitude. Whatever you do should enhance the feeling that you are living your life in a way that you see as moral and just. Others may be more concerned about money, than spiritual self-worth: but these poor creatures are doomed to waste the precious experience that is human existence.