I'm Okay; You're Okay Just the way we are BY: Troy Murphy |June 2014
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Dissatisfaction drives consumers to the self-help industry, seeking answers to emptiness. We want more; we want to feel better. The nagging dissatisfaction infers that something is missing—dreadfully wrong. The self-help industry thrives on consumers beliefs that they are not happy, unsuccessful, ill or simply not good enough. After trillions of dollars have been spent fixing our well-being sickness, we must ask, “Has well-being improved?”
We employ remedies causing more illness than cured, pushing us further off course, and leaving maladies unaddressed. Many well-being remedies don’t work; they soothe us into oblivion, dropping defenses and subjecting our magically protected world to the full force of unplanned reality. We must consider, when spending money on a product, that profit motivates by capitalism—the consumer’s well-being often ignored. Selling consumers what they want trumps (as far as profits go) consumers’ needs, marketing convincing the consumer of what they need. Sometimes the two—want and need—are the same but often they are not.
Consumers wants attracts producers. The more a product is desired, the more entrepreneurs compete to provide. Marketing actively seeks to provide products that sell. The whole system is ingenious, leaning on psychology to create a successful business plan. Many producers don’t intentionally deceive—some do. But they invest in the idea that brings them success. To abandon a money-making idea because they discovered it harms creates cognitive dissonance; pushing one direction while pulling the other. The lure of success deceptively blinds them, delaying skeptical examination of conflicting evidence. They continue to harm while padding their pockets. Once anyone—marketers, citizens, consumers—latches onto an ideology, the strength of the belief comes to life, blinding insight, and protecting itself from challenges. We all must beware.
On a small scale, I have confronted this issue with the Flourishing Life Society. Some posts naturally attract more attention—likes, comments and shares. I’m naturally inclined to post more of those popular topics. This influences research and narrows the scope of the page. Slowly philosophies posted merge with the popular ideologies instead of exploring the less appreciated novel. My investment, however, is relatively small. I receive no financial compensations nor do I depend on the page for support. While comments and followers are nice, and satisfy personal needs, my postings largely continue to present gleamed insights from personal research. Writing and learning provides my purpose—self-actualization needs. For me to post unpopular topics, only cost a few likes, stimulating in me a passing thought, “interesting, I thought this post would attract more attention.”
Consider a self-improvement project, developed by a psychologist, narrowing improvement to ten steps—ten habits to a better life. The author truly believes in the outlined steps. But since the author is human, she is subject to biases. The life promised by following the ten-steps may be unrealistic; and the steps unproven. But if the theory sounds good, it sells. If a consumer fails, the author doesn’t blame the ten-step program but blames the consumer. There is no way to beat this biased system. Followers who succeed praise the ten steps, supporting the theory. Those who fail are dismissed--poor science. Without a structured examination, we learn very little about our theories. People succeed and fail in any program. Often the determining factors lay outside the self-help program and inside the individuals being measured.
Sorry for the divergence.
In short, well-meaning (and ill-meaning) people convince us we need help; we are experiencing less than life should deliver and they have the answer.
Maybe we’re okay just as we are. You’re okay! I’m okay! Perhaps we don’t need a magical cure. Our experience—discomforts, struggles and all—is the way life is supposed to feel. Maybe life without the occasional shadows of sorrow would be bland. The constant flow of promises of a better life—richness and fullness—possibly encourage feelings of lack disrupting appreciation of the moment. Maybe the marketing creates the need they are trying to rectify.
Of course, we can grow. Organisms naturally grow. With wisdom and practice, we enhance skills, planning and action. We gradually, with wisdom, sharpen our experience, removing distractions, avoiding detriments, and adding knowledge. But growth is incremental—small and unremarkable. Our feelings remain indistinguishable from one week to another. On rare occasions, we may stumble on noticeable change but most change is insignificant and unnoticed. We deplore natural feelings and slow change because they bore compared to the unrealistic promises of gregarious peddlers. We mourn the normal and seek the exceptional. The imperfect existence becomes the enemy. We seek to transcend our biological inheritance of normalcy.
Ideals disappoint. We always want more. Constant attention to ideals magnifies feelings that something’s missing. We seek to manipulate feelings, ignoring their guiding purpose. With a pill or a distraction, we soothe the warning system and lose the wisdom. Emotions, a biological construction, serve an evolutionary purpose. We can improve how we express, understand and process emotional arousals but shouldn’t condemn feelings—whether discomforting or not.
You’re okay! I’m okay! We don’t need another program. Living doesn’t need to be a daily battle fighting against the currents of reality. You’re okay! I’m okay! Freeing ourselves from the burden of forced change, oddly enough, encourages beautiful change.