A contented life in the age of distraction?

There is a subtle, yet pervasive illusion going on right under our noses and it starts with a war for our attention and ultimately our wallets. But does this actually lead to fulfillment, happiness and a well-balanced life?

Many philosophical and religious traditions make light of the fact that there is more to life than mere things and events. While I do not agree that means we should worship some form of imagined deity, it is worth exploring the idea that the deluge of information and ‘stuff’ foisted on us may not be doing us good and could in fact be doing us harm.

There is more to life than the accumulation of stuff, which means we can benefit from a thorough examination of the distractions and illusory needs we are confronted with.

Raising consciousness

This idea of examining our lives is by no means a new one. Philosophers from Socrates to Seneca and Alain de Botton have written extensively about examining at life and all its complexities.

The recent awareness of our daily life morphing to fit a rapidly changing technological age has seen a huge rise even more ‘noise’ in the form of fake gurus and charlatans. The appeal of books and courses on how to streamline one’s life have increased as people are finding out that their lives have centred around accumulating stuff. For instance, I probably use less than 1% of the information I have downloaded or read from the Internet in the past 10 years.

As Bill Hicks so eloquently and forcefully put it, life the way we know is just a ‘ride’:

A couple of features of the ride:
  • The psychology of the purchase and the appeal of accumulation.
  • Advertising and marketing has us chasing more and more. There is no room for contentment under such a pervasive ideology. Marketing puts dollar signs on everything.
  • Attention is a scarce resource. The mind can only hold so much information at one time and can really only consciously focus on one thing at a time.

The underlying fallacy

Modern society is organised around the lie that we need more in order to feel somehow complete. The reason for this is obvious – without rampant consumption society as we know it falls, and besides, they say, we’ve never had it so good. On the one hand we’re told to be financially responsible yet it is far more beneficial to others for us to be in dire debt. It is a fairly retarded situation and one that ultimately cannot continue unabated.

I quite like John Lennon’s take on the craziness of our daily lives, as heard in the song I’m Only Sleeping:

…Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find there’s no need.

So what’s the secret to a happier more contented life?

Less. There that’s it. Less.

I’m not saying give up everything and become a hippy or pretend to be doing the world a favour by going all ‘Eat Pray Love’ on us.

I am advocating the kind of analysis that Tim Ferris recommends – a thorough cull of distraction, mental detours and fluff. Tim actually recommends doing an 80/20 analysis in every area of your life – what 20% of X makes the largest impact on your happiness/business/relationships..?

In this 24/7 news, internet information age, we are under constant bombardment from advertising, social media fluff, spam and tempting yet ultimately wasteful mental detours. Filtering these distractions and investing more time in what really makes a difference in your life may well be the most challenging yet exhilarating thing you could do.


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