Another American election season is finally over, and if there’s only one thing we can all agree on it is this: it’s time for those damn lawn signs to come down! Election years in this country are tough for those of us with an eye for the aesthetic. We have the debris of electoral hopefuls scattered everywhere for two solid months, then only a week or two of normalcy before Christmas decorations go up.
It’s not just a visual blight either, this short time between Election Day and Thanksgiving is also a respite from the relentless onslaught of advertising and promotions we suffer at the hands of our 24-hour media cycles. First campaign attack ads to scare us into voting for someone rather than someone else, then Christmas ads to scare us into making the right choices for our friends and family during the upcoming gift season.
Holidays and elections are both advertised as a time of hope against fear. They both strike at our inherent desire to effect change in the world so as to make it more palatable to our inner self, to remove what we disagree with and install that which is agreeable to us. Elections so we can try to put “our team” in power, and holidays so we surround ourselves with family and cheer in order to make our inner selves more content.
But is this what truly brings happiness, or is it just a diversion from the real work that needs to be done?
Everyone seems to have something to complain about after every election, and post-holiday depression is a real psychological diagnosis. So, I’m going to venture a guess that neither elections nor holidays bring us true, or at least lasting, happiness. So wherein lies the answer?
Perhaps we, encouraged by news and social media, are increasingly too focused on what’s external to us; that which we have only a modicum of control over. Maybe this isn’t a coincidence. Perhaps this is better for us because complaining about others is easier than making change ourselves. Maybe it’s because when change fails (or succeeds yet falls short of expectation) we can deny our own responsibility.
After all, it was other people that failed, not us, right?
And so, we cycle. Control of pieces of our government swing back and forth between two poles. Holidays and vacations come and go. Lather, rinse, repeat every year (or two). And our levels of comfort and happiness graph along with these external changes, chaining us to the behavior and status of others.
For some of us the only way to truly find grounding is to look within. Gandhi is often (badly) paraphrased as saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. But what he actually said is even more insightful:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi
There are many wonderful layers to this quote, and I encourage everyone to spend some time with it and strive to get at what it means to each of you, philosophically. Is Gandhi saying that we can change the world by changing ourselves? Or is he saying that by changing your perception of the world you can change what you see in it?
Either way, surely he meant that true change comes from within, and that only this change is completely under our control. We can’t completely detach from the world around us: we need family, friends, and society to keep us safe and secure, and to grow and thrive. But our happiness is our responsibility alone, and the journey towards inner peace can only start and end within each one of us.
This two-week period of relative quiet is a perfect time to shift our focus from what everyone else is going to do, and to start looking inwards.
What will you do to start taking control of your happiness today?