One of the most intriguing questions you’ll ever be asked is “If you could have anything
you wanted that fits inside a shoebox, what would it be to make you truly happy?”
Responses are typically money, gold, diamonds, or car keys… things that derive happiness
from material possessions. What faults are in us to make us to think such shallow thoughts
about happiness? On rare occasions you get really meaningful responses like an unhappily
single girl wishing for an engagement ring, or an infertile woman wanting a baby, or a Dad
wanting his father’s letters that were lost during the war. All of these things represent deeper
happiness involving love and endearment. They are things that can’t be spent, wasted or
broken. They are deep connections that represent what we want in life.
An expert in what we truly need and want deeply in life was Abraham Maslow, an American
Psychologist who, way back in 1943, proposed a simple theory. It pretty much explained that
to be perfectly capable of being happy you first need to fulfil basic human needs: food,
water and sleep. If these needs are met, you can then seek more complex human needs like
love, creativity and confidence. If you can achieve these then you keep trying to achieve
more to ultimately fulfil every aspect of his theory, or as many as possible. Maslow himself
once said “If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I
warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.” This is why it is so important to
see past craving material possessions (our faults) and look for far deeper ways to derive true
happiness (the stars).
People were made to be loved. And things were made to be used. The reason the world is
so corrupt is because things are getting loved and people are getting used. Maslow’s theory
does not include iPhone 6’s, Nike shoes or, MacBook Pro’s. It includes love, spontaneity,
self esteem and confidence, things that cannot be labelled or branded. I asked students at
Burnside what was their most prized possession and I got some ridiculous (yet genuine)
answers… ‘My phone’. ‘Pizza’. ‘Things I have bought myself’. This is not to say that these
things do not make people happy but the point is that happiness is not derived from food or
clothes. A survey I carried out to my fellow Burnside High friends backed up the early
responses to the shoebox question. Again, most people’s first thoughts are usually
materialistic objects, because they are immediate and we feel like we can’t live without them.
All these possessions and privileges have slipped into our everyday routines and we are
oblivious to how lucky we are. Think about what you cherish most in your life – truly think
about it – and you’ll find that pizza and your phone are no where near the top of your list.
Fortunately a few ‘stars’ were embedded in the survey responses: “My most prized
possession is my best friends funeral booklet and the friendship bands we had.” ‘My
closest friends’. ‘My girlfriend’. ‘My family’. Surely these things demonstrate more meaningful
happiness than perishable objects. If you want to be happier in life, don’t focus all of your
attention on objects and think more about your relationships with your family and friends,
your work ethic and other sentimental things. These things bring out the best sides of you,
so why would you neglect all of these deeper connections?
Let’s move off my personal observations and survey results and look at more professional
research on the subject. Let’s start with ‘Four hundred and fifty’. That is the minimum
number of defined mental health disorders that affect people everyday. Minimum? Yes, there
are more. People of any race, age, gender, religion and economic status can suffer from any
mental health disorder. Things like depression and anxiety have no prejudice, they can
target any individual. So, expectedly, there are hundreds of internet websites that advise
teenagers on how to be happy. But I have observed that these suggestions are vague and
unhelpful. Things like ‘change your soul’ and ‘love life’ do not help you. Some even advise
teenagers to ‘copy someone you think is perfect’ or ‘always look your best so people want to
talk to you’. That’s honestly ridiculous.
Sue Dixon, Burnside High School’s head of counselling said that ‘Sleeping, eating and
exercising are the biggest problems in teenagers’. It is so hard to function when you
haven’t even achieved the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so how are you going
to achieve the more rewarding aspects? Strive for excellence, for deeper connections and
meaningful discussions. Your world should not revolve around shallow things. I don’t know a
single adult that values their iPhone over their children, parents, friends and sentimental
things, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to know one. Would you? People are the most
precious and valuable asset to our lives. They influence us, they inspire us and most
importantly they make us happy. Somebody will always love you. If you don’t think this is
true, then you’re not paying close enough attention.
Someone hands you a shoebox and inside is that one thing you have longed for… for
months. What is it? If it’s money, gold, diamonds, or car keys, then “I warn you that you will
be unhappy for the rest of your life” (quote credit to Maslow). If this hasn’t inspired you to
think about looking for stars in your faults, to be honest… I don’t know what will.
Think again… “If you could have anything you wanted that fits inside a shoebox, what would
it be to make you truly happy?”
I knew you’d change your mind.