I hear a lot about how our society sells us on consumerist wants, how magazines convince us we look ugly and need to look better, how car commercials make us lust after cars we don’t need, how our whole economy is premised on the empty ideal of keeping up with the Joneses.
This concept has even been extended to Facebook. Facebook, studies say, makes us unhappy by showing other people at their best. This makes us feel like our lives are worse than they are, and we become dissatisfied and unhappy.
I’m sure all this is true, and is a valid critique of our culture.
But there are few times when I’ve felt happier than when I had something big and ambitious to aspire to. In fact, one of my chief disappointments in growing older is that society hasn’t risen to the challenge of giving me new things to base my aspirations on.
Of course, the aspirations I picked up on weren’t things like “have a bigger house”, or “drive a nicer car”. They were more like, “be an epic swordsmen and start your own airline”, or “speak twelve languages and go rock-climbing on the weekends”.
In fact, after being drawn in by all the aspirational lifestyles the magazines were selling, one of the first aspirations I actually ever developed for myself was to be a magazine publisher.
These kinds of aspirations didn’t leave me dissatisfied with my life. Instead, because I knew I could jump in and work towards them, they gave me meaning and purpose, a sense of open-ended possibility, and a pulsing creative energy. They didn’t limit me to some predefined rat race; they showed me the doorway to greater and grander things than I had yet imagined.