Can’t We All Just Be Rich and Happy?

How come we spend money during a Boom and then save it during a Bust? If we did things the other way around, don’t you think we’d all be a lot wealthier?

There was once a time when our cleaver ancestors needed to exploit the good times and salvage the bad. Food went sour quickly; predation was merciless; abundance was scarce. But they understood the fundamental connections in the natural order of things. It didn’t take them long to learn not to eat ‘n excrete in the same spot. They learned, the hard way of course, that if you killed everything in sight, you’d have none of it to eat later.

Unlike our ancestors, the vast majority of us have around us what we need–food, water, shelter, clothing, safety from predation, warmth, coolness, transport, medicine, you name it. We don’t have to chow down scarce food that suddenly arrives on the plain. We can spread our needs out over time. We can plan things in ways that our ancestors never could. We have accomplished so much that they would be proud of and yet we squander everything they loved: time, food, fire, discipline, nature, culture, presence of mind.

Biological evolution shot us right out of the selective cannon and the culture we created hurled us to the moon and beyond. And yet our souls suffer a dissatisfaction that’s tearing us apart. Why? Just what is it we’re not satisfied with?

Our ancestors knew life was inherently unsatisfying. The Hindus knew we were part of a much larger party going on in the universe and they respected their part in the game. The ancient Hebrews understood the unifying glue that held it all together and their faith beyond themselves remains steadfast to this day. The Buddhists realized that everything that happens takes place right now and they’re still content to sit still and breathe, knowing the satiety of an impermanent world. And the early Christians saw redemption in the suffering of all beings.

Perhaps we need to better understand how our ancestors figured it out. Perhaps we just need to know that there’s a bigger game in the world, that there are unifying patterns to recognize, that sitting and breathing and paying attention to our minds’ velocity are what we really need to focus our lives around.

The time to get out of depression is when your happy. When your happy, you’re supposed to take time to reflect on your happiness: the things you have, the problems you don’t, the people responsible for it. You’re supposed to spend your attention on these small things, nurture them into big shiny things around your life. Then when bad things happen, those things you enkindled are big and bright enough to show you through.

You can think your way into a clinical depression just as much as you can think your way into a global economic depression. If we paid attention to the things that matter during good times, the things that don’t matter wouldn’t bother us during bad times. We’d be happier more often, so we could save during a Boom and spend during the Bust. And we all be richer and happier.