Humans fundamentally need to be accepted and recognized by others. They want to feel they are a part of society. They want to feel that they are good people. And they want to do the right thing. As a result, they often become brainwashed by society, unquestioningly following societal norms without thinking about their true self.
Surrounded by societal expectations, many people forget to ask themselves a set of critical questions: Will achieving certain life milestones really make me happier? Or will these milestones only help me fulfill a set of societal expectations?
Societal brainwashing seems to permeate every important aspect of our lives — from obtaining a higher education, to getting married, starting a family when approaching a certain age, having a stable job, and owning a home. The list goes on.
I’ve met many people who couldn’t supply a good reason for why they needed an MBA. After getting an MBA, they returned to exactly the same job they had prior to getting an MBA, or they ended up in a job that does not require an MBA.
There are some people that have great, high–paying jobs, but they are unhappy because their hearts yearn for something else – something that is more fulfilling and more meaningful. Something they can be truly passionate about. Despite their unhappiness, they continue to do the same thing, day after day, primarily because their friends and family think their job is great.
Still others buy a house, not only because it is symbol of financial success, but also because owning one’s own home is the great American dream – even though many could have a much better ROI by investing their money elsewhere.
Many people have told me they want to get married and have kids because they are in late 20s or 30s and their biological clocks are ticking. Most of their friends are already married and have kids, and they feel that it is the right or normal thing to do, to follow the same path. At the same time, many of these same people don’t enjoy being around kids or playing with kids. ”But with my own kids, it’ll be different”, they insist. But how can they be 100% sure they will enjoy raising their own children when they don’t enjoy playing with children today? After all, raising a child comes with many more challenges than just playing with a child. I think many people underestimate how difficult parenting actually is. They end up unhappy, feeling burdened or overwhelmed by their children – and, in a way, they do a disservice to their children by being not-so-great parents.
With societal brainwashing, people get unnecessarily frustrated, anxious, disappointed, and unhappy when they haven’t met certain life milestones dictated by society. Moreover, they assume they will be happier once certain life milestones are met. Yet I often run into many people who are unhappy even after they have everything that is deemed important by society.
Some people fail to recognize the impact of societal brainwashing and don’t understand why they are still unhappy, although they seem to have everything that most people aspire for. They often feel guilty and think they are being unreasonable. Their friends and family are likely to say that they are too demanding — “You should be content with what you have”, they say. While I agree that you should be happy with what you have, you have to be able to differentiate between things you really want to have versus things society thinks you should have.
It is very important that, every now and then, we ask ourselves, “Is this what I really want? Will this really make me happy? Or am I doing this simply because others expect me to? Do I want this just so that I look good in the eyes of the society? Or would I want it regardless of what other people think?”
It’s difficult to ask ourselves these questions. It’s even more difficult to be true to ourselves, give ourselves honest answers, and have enough courage and conviction to stick with them, no matter how unpopular or nonconforming they might be. But we have to continue trying. If we don’t, we’ll spend our lives trying to fulfill society’s definitions of a happy life. We’ll also be deeply unhappy, as we’ll be out of touch with the one person who matters most when it comes to being happy – ourselves.