Friday, September 5, 2014

That iPhone (and your happiness) is impermanent

It's a truth of existence that material things won't bring you lasting happiness. Things break. Or get outdated. Maybe the iPhone 5 brought you bliss -- but now the iPhone 6 is about to be introduced. And that might make you even happier. Until you find the bugs in it or the 7 is rumored.

Expecting things to make us happy only leads to disappointment, which leads to wanting new things. That desire for something to improve the present moment is what creates stress and dissatisfaction, aka unhappiness, the Buddha said.

A new study, Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Material and Experiential Purposes,  found that people get more enduring happiness when they spend money on experiences than on acquiring things. That extends to waiting in line for those things.

People tended to be more competitive about purchases, and a comparison of news reports about people waiting in line found that long waits for material purchases were more likely to end in violence, researchers said.

One of the study's authors, Amit Kumar, a doctoral student at Cornell University, speculates that experiences give people the opportunity to bond and socialize. Even when if you aren't guaranteed a ticket to a concert or a taco from the cool new food truck, people often enjoy waiting in line. "While waiting for concert tickets, people reported singing songs together, or people would be playing games with each other while they're waiting," he says.

Waiting for the experience became part of the experience, not something that was preventing acquisition of The Thing That Would Give Us All the Happiness.

Westerners speak of the "pursuit" of happiness, which generally depends on running after external conditions ... There is only one problem: The very nature of desire is that it cannot be satisfied -- at least not for long.
The happiness that I'm talking about is not "pursued." In fact, the more we remains elf-contained and do not pursue thoughts or fantasies, or rush from one attractive object to another, the more we can access a wakeful contentment that is always with us. ... This wakeful state of ease is quite joyful and approaches a profound sense of well-being. -- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
It's important to note that contentment doesn't require you to renounce your smartphone or wear nothing but caftans. It's OK to like things -- just know that the happiness they bring is conditional, impermanent, and dependent. It won't last. Contentment, though, is unconditional, luminous, and always there. Pursue that.

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