Late one night, while hustling the corridors of an airport in a foreign country it occurred to me for no particular reason that the most important thing in life is the attitude you hold towards it.
I later sat in my rigid airplane seat with frigid air blasting the crown of my head and pondered the paradox of a generation convinced that the lives of others are desirable, despite the facts that comfort, money, and all the other sybaritic tokens of "success" are material, and that it is well documented that happiness is not a product of material wealth.
Indeed — the belief that even success is unconditionally desirable is flawed. The 1900's and 2000's have been littered with popular culture pariahs who have killed themselves because they could not reconcile their own happiness with such success and wealth: Kurt Cobain, Hemingway and Freddie Prinze to name but a few.
This certainly is no novel paradox; since the first advertisement for the first box of soap was papered to the first shop window (and probably long before this), we have been beset by the cultural syllogism that ownership of newer, better "things" will improve our lives and the corollary that there is somebody, somewhere, living a “better” life than ours. Keeping up with the Joneses has become a global pass-time.
But now this intellectual disease has manifested itself in an age where voyeurism is an international obsession and reality is curated on Instagram and Facebook rather than lived — a topic I certainly don't need to elaborate on as it seems to be the oriflamme of this generation's cultural critics (one needs to look no further then a daily paper or news-feed for a column on the subject). We no longer need to rely on imagination to populate images of “the Joneses” because the internet does it for us.
The great irony in all of this is that with overcrowded job markets, an increasingly automated workforce, frequent natural disasters, imminent nuclear threats and a tenuous global economy it is perhaps harder than it has ever been for us to be sure of anything. The great fortresses of confidence we build for ourselves of sand and sweat exist tenuously and could at any moment be savaged and crumble into useless glittering piles, no matter how invincible we believe them to be.
With this uncertainty drifting through my mind not long ago, I sat at a traffic light in a steaming crowd of small motorized scooters and watched an ancient, bedraggled man accept a packet of stale rice from a stranger with a smile that corrugated his entire face with joy and wrinkled his lined, hazel features. I realized that the only thing left to us in this impossible and fickle world is perspective; the cultivation of an attitude towards both success and failure that allows us to maintain a life of gratitude, if not one of happiness — for happiness is as unsure as all the rest and I am beginning to suspect that it is not so much a plateau that one reaches after long years of work but a simple and fleeting elation of the soul that comes and goes, if we allow it, without much regard for our desire or design. Indeed, our continued mortality is delicate, and any one of us could meet our end at a moment's notice.
So in acceptance of the total and complete uselessness of plans that presume permanent happiness, comfort, success or wealth of any sort, it seems prudent to ignore exogenous forces, ups and downs, elation and depression, bad luck and good luck and everything in between… to throw our hands up at all the petty things that preoccupy us during the endless dog-dance of daily life, and to try to cultivate a pragmatic and undying appreciation, rooted in the solidarity of the human condition, of this two-faced, ineffable, brilliant world that we live in.