Because I plan to use this blog for discussion of both the personal and political (and the interplay between the two), today I'm going to talk about a common problem of human behavior, one that I've been thinking and reading a lot about lately.
Here's an interesting article I just read on one of my favorite internet addictions, cracked.com:
5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows
If you can't be arsed to follow the link and read it, the long and short of this article is that the truth behind a number of popular "fix 'em up" reality shows is rather ugly. While the television broadcast portrays a Cinderella story or a tale of dramatic personal change, in reality the changes are rarely sustainable. Restaurants that have their kitchens made over still fail. Homes that are flipped become too expensive for families to afford to live in. Weight that is lost comes right back with extra pounds in tow.
In short...reality TV shows that sell the spectacle of miracle transformations and "happily ever after" are lying through their teeth. Not only are these kinds of miracles highly unlikely to ever touch the lives of us regular folks, they don't have a permanent impact on the ones who do experience them.
Not that we can pretend that they're the first ones who do it. Our culture loves quick fixes, from get-rich-quick stories, casino trips and lottery tickets, to romantic movies where the "happily ever after" is assumed to be a given once two people discover a mutual attraction. Reality TV isn't guilty of being the first to sell this illusion, only of being the first to package it as "real life" in this particular manner.
Now, lest you should think I'm setting myself up for a good ol' rant and finger waggle about people who want magic bullets and simple answers, I will say that there's nothing wrong with telling stories about drastic, fast life transformations. They make very good stories, after all, and certainly there are some times when a certain event or series of events can change our lives forever.
The problem, however, comes when we get so deluged with these fantasy stories that we forget how far from reality they truly are. This, I believe, is a product of the electronic age, for never before in human history have such vivid fantastical stories become such a huge part of our everyday lives. Brains that evolved to observe the life and people around us can easily be confused into finding the evocative moving pictures more real than our neighbors and co-workers. It reshapes our sense of reality, our social focus and how we relate to the world.
When that reshaping causes us to forget, as a culture, that reality as a whole is fairly devoid of miracle solutions, we continually look for - and expect, on a subconscious level - impossible forms of happiness. Increasingly, this type of quick-fix seeking is taking over our very sense of what happiness is and how it comes to be.
The answer to this problem is not more finger-pointing, but a cultural response that starts to illuminate the processes and experiences of REAL happiness. I'm already starting to see this happen in a number of places, but there's a lot more work that needs to happen before we can really make the shift.
Then, of course, there's the really hard part: letting go of the fantasy. Realizing that the dream-come-true quick fixes we fantasize about are highly unlikely, are mutually exclusive, or simply won't bring us the happiness we think they will.
But the beautiful flip side to that is this: some of the greatest bliss you'll ever experience can and will come at the least expected times, from the least expected sources.