Skip to main content

See also:

Are Hummingbirds Happy?

Beauty + simplicity = satisfaction
Beauty + simplicity = satisfactionPhoto by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

NOTE: In returning to this relationship column, I am going to look at all kinds of relationships - from the broadest sense - like how we relate to our world and beyond - to our individual relationships with family, loved ones, friends, and co-workers. As the world influences each individual, so all the people collectively make up the world. To look at relationship through that wide-angle lens is to gain a perspective that hopefully empowers people to create their relationships and their lives with purpose, responsibility, and ultimately to create the life each person truly wants!

As you go about your day-to-day life focused on what you need to do, are you able to take time to notice the world and people around you as well? This is not a trick question! We are living in times when stress has escalated so much that most people don't have time or energy to notice the world around them, because so many are drained by their lives, they are metaphorically treading water.

Case in point, I was in Mollie Stone's on California recently, looking around as I made my way to the soup bar. I saw a very attractive man rush past me with a blond, curly-haired little girl in his cart. I noticed that his face looked tense, stressed, and a bit annoyed. He didn't see me as he nearly ran over me with his cart, nor did he seem to see anyone else.

As I looked around this affluent supermarket, in an affluent part of the very affluent San Francisco, I wondered for the umpteenth time of late, what price we pay for the lives we live. I wondered if people were happy with all the money they have and work hard to earn, and the possessions and lifestyle bought with that money. Then I wondered where all the greed, and its shadow, scarcity, came from and why they have grown like bloated bellies after a holiday dinner. With a fleeting sigh that is more of a statement than a question, I wonder why so many of us continue to buy the old adage that "more is better."

Most adults live primarily in two worlds - the world of our family and/or home life, and the world of work. In the larger sense, home and work are two of our primary relationships. They are made up of individual relationships with people. Collectively, they add up to the relationship we have with our lives and when we look at them, they largely indicate how satisfied and fulfilled we feel.

As so many people continue to reach and work for more - more money, more security, bigger homes and cars, bigger TVs, and smaller, better, and faster technology - one of the biggest results of all this work is more stress, not necessarily more money. Stress, anxiety, and all the other manifestations of these conditions is growing larger and faster than any pre-2008 hedge fund!

Sometimes I think it's easy to forget that in addition to making money, our work should also give us a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. This was a reality when the WW2 generation gave birth to the baby boom generation. As the boomers aged, and the workforce grew with more workers, that idea aged into a vague, old notion. Today that idea has nearly disappeared. Most people work to live - because they have to. Living to work, because people love what they do - is endangered.

One of the reasons the concept of "more" has grown was because so many people have felt so worn out by and resentful of what they gave up in order to make money needed to live. Many people feel they have given up a lot for their jobs - because they have! Giving up a general feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction is a HUGE loss. And without realizing it, we have been looking ever since for something "more" to replace those lost feelings of fulfillment sand satisfaction from our work.

In looking at these changes there is at least one dysfunctional quality that also holds part of the solution. The dysfunction is workaholism - an addiction that exists largely in this country, and has been fed by the concept of "more." One of the biggest casualties of workaholism has been fulfillment and satisfaction.

It is these qualities that give bloom to a truer "more" of life - feeling good about our work, feeling a sense of belonging (to an organization we respect, people/friends with whom we work), and the sense at the end of the day that we did a good job and a made a valuable contribution for an organization we felt proud to work for.

These feelings seem a fleeting memory to some and to others they seem like fiction. So when we look at the relationship we have to our work and our lives, perhaps we should not be surprised that we have begun looking externally for fulfillment and satisfaction! Those external substitutes include things like entertainment, food and wine, the accumulation of stuff (money, technology, etc.) and many other things that artificially compensate for the loss and give us a temporary feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction with our lives. But because these things are poor substitutes for real satisfaction and fulfillment, we have to keep doing more in our search for more...

Sounds a bit bleak, doesn't it? Let's remember that isn't true for everyone! But in part, it is bleak - that's the part of the current paradigm that's dying. We are living right now through chaotic, turbulent times. That is because chaos is how life de-constructs and out of which grows a new reality - just like the mythical bird, the Phoenix, who was re-born and renewed out of its own ashes. There is nothing wrong with wanting more satisfaction and fulfillment. And there is nothing wrong with wanting some amenities along the way. Clearly, trying to live only a materialistically abundant life has created greater and greater excesses, but no real greater fulfillment!

The part of life that is expanding is a new reality - and it has many expressions - like valuing what we already have, feeling gratitude, recognizing all the gifts and blessings we have, and making different choices. The trend has already begun in the 30- and 40-somethings many of whom do work that allows them more time with children and family, even if it means making less money.

Other people move out of expensive, status cities to live more affordably and enjoy their lives. Do these people have regrets? Maybe, maybe not - but more and more are singing as moving trucks are winding their ways to new beginnings with great promise! They hold the promise of new work, new scenery, deeper relationships with family and loved ones, new relationships with co-workers, new friends, and sometimes old friends. There is great promise in a new community. There is also great promise in the same community when we find new resolve or make changes.

We each live in growing concentric circles of relationship - the smallest circle is, of course, made up of the people closest to us in our lives. Then there are the relationships with friends, neighbors, and others, institutions and businesses, the nation, and the government. Let's not forget the relationship we have with the physical world - our homes, possessions, the earth, air, water, and other elements that make up this world and universe. The circle reaches its greatest mass when we include relationships with people throughout the world - all of humanity!

Let's not mistake or dismiss these considerations as 'California woo woo'. Even for those who deny being in these relationships, it doesn't change the fact, or the larger interconnectedness of life.

Literally and metaphorically, Hillary Clinton and the indigenous cultures before her were right - it does indeed take a village to raise a child - and it SHOULD! Life is much richer when people live and grow together in community where there is enough for all. We'll look at the sense of community in another column here soon.

When we work hard and we work long hours, and when that realm is filled with stress and the ongoing striving for more, it really is no wonder so many are starving for satisfaction and fulfillment!

There is a hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window. I make the sugar water that these joyous seeming birds drink as often as needed. I wonder if each of them are happy and fulfilled - however simple or complicated their lives may be. Since the hummingbirds don't talk to me, I get to answer that question! In my mind and inner world, the answer that surfaces is yes - in part because they get their needs met, and in part because their needs and lives seem simple. I wonder if they lived with our notion that more is better, if they'd be happy or fulfilled...