Monday, April 8, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” - United States Declaration of Independence.

  While the U.S. government has done a pretty good job ensuring the rights of life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness is another matter altogether. First of all, what exactly do our founding fathers mean by ‘happiness’? Is it money? Is it health? Is it friends, family, and ties to your community? In reality, it is a mixture of all three, but the foundation ladies and gentlemen is your health and here’s why: 1.) If you are sick and incapable of working it is pretty difficult to have a steady flow of income let alone have the ability to be an active participant your community. 2.) It is that much more difficult to stay positive and optimistic when the body is sick and void of energy, although I have known many people who have been amazingly positive and influential despite their illness. If the core of happiness then, is health, how can one proactively help their mental and physical well-being? There inlays the issue: it requires money...and lots of it. 

This past year I have been on a pursuit to regain my health and energy in an all-natural manner. But it has come at a very hefty cost:

-Yoga membership: $90/month
-Princeton Club Membership: $40/month
-Naturopathic Doctor: $130 per appt.
-Cost of Supplements: around $120/month
-Gluten free, dairy free diet: not calculable but there is an outrageous price difference in the cost of natural foods versus anything packaged, canned, or part of a multi-billion dollar corporation.
-Hair, skin, and nail products that don’t have toxic chemicals (i.e. 1. sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate, diamine toluene sulfate, PEG-3 cocamide, aminomethyl propanol, and any paraben) The cheapest shampoo from your local CVS or Walgreens that fits these requirements is Burt’s Bees Shampoo at $8.50 a bottle. Add conditioner, body wash, moisturizing lotion, and makeup... well, you do the math.
-And last but definitely not least: Time. Time cook and eat your food. Time to go to the gym or to a yoga class. Time to get outside and walk around. Time to relax and enjoy yourself. Time to be able to sleep a comfortable number of hours. Time to be with your loved ones whether it’s family, friends, a significant other, or your children.

To most people, all of the above is considered a luxury. First you need a job that pays you well enough to at least be able to pay the bills: mortgages or rent, health care, TV and Internet, cell phone, car insurance, and gas. Only then can you even begin to think about spending money on other things without going into debt. In the United States over 45% of those 15 years and older have incomes below $25,000 while the top 10% have incomes exceeding $82,500 a year. Does anyone else see a problem with this? Well actually, yes. The Social Security Advisory Board said in their 2009 document “The unsustainable cost of health care”: 

'The cost of health care in the United States is growing more rapidly than the incomes of those who pay for it. If these costs continue to rise as rapidly into the future, the standards of living and economic security of retirees and workers alike will be put in jeopardy.'

The vast majority of our country is barely making it. They are overworked, overstressed, living off of caffeine and sugar to keep them moving while their bodies are rapidly deteriorating. The National Institute of Mental Health says that in a given year, approximately 20.9 million American adults have a mood disorder...and those records are probably nowheres near accurate given that many people can not even afford to go to the doctor to be given that diagnosis in the first place. And what does that doctor do for those mood disorders?  Put them on medication of course! For those that are unhappy, give them some Prosac! For those that can’t sleep- give them some Ambien to knock them out! For those who can’t sit still and concentrate- dole out the Adderall! Yay! Problem solved! The FDA can say “Hey look! We are keeping our Americans happy!” Little do those Americans know that these medications are severely interfering with their body’s natural chemical balance and are causing them even more health problems ($ in the doctor and pharmaceutical company’s pocket. See and the reason they weren’t feeling well in the first place was probably because they are overstressed (Netflix Watch Instantly: Stress-Portrait of a Killer), drinking soda (aspartame: please please please go to, it’s what got me to stop drinking Diet Coke once and for all) not getting enough sleep and exercise (Netflix: The Science of Sleep, The Incredible Human Body), and not eating foods that actually provide some nourishment for the body (Netflix Watch Instantly documentaries: Food Matters, The Beautiful Truth, Food Inc, The Botany of Desire, The Future of Food). And the fact that we are medicating children is downright asinine. Of course they can’t concentrate when they are eating nutritionless lunches, sitting for the majority of the day under florescent lighting without fresh air all while trying to listen and learn from teachers who are also stressed out because the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ has mandated that their curriculum be geared towards passing national standard tests. 

Is the pursuit of happiness something that is achievable for all Americans? Absolutely not. I’m saying this to all of you that are against social welfare programs and who keep saying, “Why should I pay the bills of someone who is sitting on their ass and not working!” The reality is that they will never be able to climb out their situation without some sort of assistance whether it is Unemployment, Social Security, or Medicare. I would never be where I am today without the love and financial support of my parents. Just think of how many people can’t afford to buy decent clothes for their interview because they have to first think about putting food on the table, who don’t have a car to get there and have to time their lives around an outdated transportation system, and who never had parents around to motivate them to go to college. 

One of my first and favorite college course was Journalism where I learned the term ‘Groupthink’. It is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, where the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the "ingroup" produces an "illusion of invulnerability" (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the "ingroup" significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the "outgroup"). What those professors ultimately were trying to teach us was that we should make our own decisions and do so with a critical eye. Contrary to popular belief, the decisions that our government makes are not always right nor moral and the media more often than not is blurring the truth or at least skewing what we do and do not hear. 

In 1990 the Voyager 1 space craft took a photograph of Earth from 6 billion kilometers away. In that photograph the planet is so small (at 0.12 pixels) it appears as a barely detectable dot. In 1996 the famous astronomer Carl Sagan placed humans within the context of an infinite universe in his speech “Pale Blue Dot” which was inspired by the photograph ( Sagan summarizes by saying “It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” In other words, we are all interconnected here on Earth- we breathe the same air and are made up of the same particles as the plants and trees around us. Because of this phenomenal universe our decisions, whether they be large or small, affect someone else on this planet. Like it or not we do have the responsibility to help each other out. Once jaded and egotistical I thought that all of my decisions only affected me- me, me, me. With the decision to take better care of myself and those around me I have learned a lot, and realize that it IS my responsibility to help as many people around me as I can. Because there are a lot of great people out there with incredible hearts. Something must shift in the way our society views taking care of one another.  Everyone should be able to have the ability to eat clean food and to have another inexpensive alternative to the products that contain so many toxic chemicals. I hope that one day enough people will realize this and voice their opinion because everyone deserves to have the opportunity to find calmness, healthiness, and happiness. Don't you think?

               (Hindu term used at the end of yoga practice meaning ‘The light in me bows to the light in you’)

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