I was once asked what it is that I like about Asia so much. I’m always talking about how much I miss it over there and hope to return someday. I’ve never really been able to offer the perfect answer but in a nutshell it is the following.
In Vietnam especially the people are exceptionally warm and friendly. It is impossible for a Vietnamese not to be able to have a very large, sincere smile on their face when you meet them. They are very poor yet seemingly never unhappy. Even the woman carrying 100lbs of stuff on her shoulder does so with a smile. It seems like they are living the perfect life with little to no money and have found happiness.
I believe a big part of this is that family is very important to them and even in the face of extreme hardship and even war they can see the beauty of life and have an great appreciation for it.
However, here in America it seems we are constantly striving towards the same end which is simple happiness. Unfortunately we go about it in the entirely wrong way and never get there. We do things that we think will bring happiness such as work for a lot of money, cars, vacations and although these things do bring temporary happiness it never lasts as we need to continue getting more more more to sustain it.
In this way, I think a good analogy is that of a Desperate Housewife:
1. Concern with image
Our culture is always telling us we are not good enough. We always have to “get to the next level” whether it be better looking, more money or higher social status.
The cosmetic companies always tell us we are not beautiful/handsome enough and need their products to have a reasonable appearance. The clothing companies also do the same and change the styles every single season so that we are constantly out of fashion and must spend more to keep up. The Desperate housewife is the same, always trying to outdo each other in terms of appearance. Yet, they can never win as there are always more clothes to buy, different creams/makeup to make the skin smoother etc. Therefore, they will never reach the goal and just be able to stop and be comfortable with their image.
America IS on drugs. We are so overly medicated that now there is even estrogen in the water supply. If you have a problem then there must be some sort of medication to treat it. A wise man once said that in America we are always treating the symptom and not the underlying causes. The cause being stress, not at peace, always running around and never at peace. In every religious tradition, peace and happiness is the goal yet we in America can never seem to get there. Therefore, we take drugs, have them advertised to us daily and consume consume consume.
We can never get enough. Even if we do get that great job and reached a goal, then we simply have to get to the next level continuously unsatisfied with what we have achieved. In other words, we are always looking up and never how far we have come. In this way too we are never satisfied with what we have just like the Desperate Housewife. They always need more more more.
I sometimes think a good slogan for newcomers in America would be, “Welcome to America, now go buy something!”
4. The Credit Crisis
We are a capitalist country which by nature requires people to buy more stuff continuously. In this “credit crisis” we are shaken to the core because we will not have the ability to continually spend.
Now there are those who really are suffering like those losing their homes who have worked hard. Yet on the other end of the spectrum, we read stories about people who just bought more than they could afford and those that mortgaged their already owned homes so they could spend more. I wonder if there was a “fairness index” which could show those that really do need help and have worked hard vs those that just wanted bigger and better in terms of housing. Nancy Pelosi said we must “tighten our belts” but it would seem that the tightening is around a size 43 waist and that we cannot simply spend like madmen anymore.
I guess that after being in Vietnam and seeing people so happy who have nothing, I have trouble reconciling the fact that we should be feeling sorry for ourselves when we have become little more than constant consumers. I also think a result of this has been the mass evangelical movement for people who are looking for more meaning out of life than to simply consume. Not inherently bad, but unfortunately it hits mostly the uneducated and they start telling other people how to live and how to be fanatical.
Desperate Housewives we are indeed.