I’ve been to enough places in the world to recognize the privilege that Americans have compared to so many other nationalities. I’ve also been to enough places to recognize that Americans are among some of the most overworked, medicated, indebted, deeply unsatisfied humans in the world. Sometimes I forget that there is more to life than sleeping and working. And we are so infatuated with consuming both financially and physically that we work ourselves to the bone and leave our loved ones on the backburner.
It’s a heartbreaking truth that we so commonly squander our one life in order to chase things that leave us empty. This tireless pursuit that is hardly worth the sacrifice of a meaningful life is what turns us into mindless zombies in desperate need of a Xanax or a glass of cabernet to numb ourselves through the grind. It’s no way to live.
I recently spent two months living in Costa Rica and took time to reflect on the way the locals chose to spend their days. Costa Rica is one example of a country that has a significantly higher life expectancy than the United States, even when compared with groups of lower socioeconomic status. I wasn’t at all shocked when I first learned this, even with the higher health expenditures in America. I also wasn’t surprised by the factors that contributed to this truth, such as smoking, obesity, economic inequality, and of course, stress that all inevitably lead to a higher mortality rate. The fact that Costa Ricans embrace a more humble existence by spending more time in nature, practicing gratitude, yoga, meditation, and eating natural foods also might be part of the reason for their longer life lines. There is less focus on competing and more focus on being.
Obesity is a result of consumption, as is smoking. Stress is a side effect of overconsumption and overworking ourselves to the point where we need to self-medicate. We all self-medicate from time to time. Sometimes we do so with processed foods and sexual promiscuity; other times, we max out our credit cards. Self-medicating doesn’t always involve swallowing a heap of pills or knocking back an alcoholic beverage. But it usually always comes in the form of toxic intake.
It’s not even just the amount of additional working hours we spend in order to earn the money we think we need to purchase more, it’s our actual possessions that are making us more miserable. Materialistic people tend to focus more on what they don’t have rather than what they do, and this creates a dangerous cycle. We assume that the more we accrue, the happier we’ll become, when really, we just raise our reference point.
It’s now worse than ever before. If we didn’t feel the need to compare ourselves to one another, perhaps there wouldn’t be so much greed. And social media obviously only exacerbates the problem. I am grateful for being born into a country with clean drinking water that provides ample opportunities to get ahead in life; however, I am also grateful for having the ability to recognize what brings us genuine happiness. I’ve found that exploring new cities, spending time with people I love, and carving out time in my day to do something creative brings me true joy. When I’m not putting on a façade or stuffing myself with artificial bullshit, I am happy. I don’t have a magic solution to get us all here, but I do know that awareness is the first step in any problem, so that’s at least a start.