According to a recent study conducted by the National Institute of
Health, the fastest growing psychological ailment in the Western
hemisphere is the onslaught of panic attacks. Four out of ten Americans
who belong to the generation of the 70ís claim to have suffered from
the above ailment. In its extreme manifestation, panic attacks, or
anxiety attacks, as they are sometimes called, render one physically
and emotionally impotent. The cause of this now-fashionable disease is
rather prosaic in nature and lies in the modern manís incessant strive
to control his environment and all that lies within its scope. Envy,
jealousy, ambition, greed -- those are just a few unattractive traits
which characterize the unlucky sufferers. Why is he making more money
than myself? Why is his wife prettier than mine? Why is his house so
spacious? Such are the questions that plague the hearts and minds of
Westerners and plunge them into depression, or worse:
In their strive to do better than oneís neighbor, they subject themselves to grueling work hours and lackluster existence. In fact most of these ďperfectionistsĒ and ďcontrol freaksĒ have practically un-learned how to derive pleasure from life. The end of a typical workday is the beginning of an even more grueling gym session where every tendon, every muscle, every bicep must be critically scrutinized and chiseled to perfection. A bland dinner devoid of salt or pepper is consumed in the evening not with the idea of satisfying hunger but with the ever-persecuting notion of prolonging this unenviable state of affairs which they dare to call life. And donít even think of an after-dinner cigar or a cigarette! Those days are forever relegated to the past when people were still convinced that quitting smoking is not a key to an eternal life. The majority of our well-to-do contemporaries seem to think that if they strip their lives of pleasure, they are going to live forever. What they are accomplishing, however, is dying in the attempt. Panic attacks are literally driving our ďperfectionistsĒ to suicide.
One such petty ďoverachieverĒ slit her wrists when she realized that aging is accompanied by the inevitable wrinkles that no plastic surgery could cure. Apparently she had spent her life maniacally avoiding the sun and applying cow dung onto her face to preserve its fleeting youthfulness. Ironically enough her suicide note read: ďLife stinks!Ē
Indeed, it does for those that are never satisfied with its simple and oftentimes unhealthy components. Drinking and socializing among friends is, if we are to believe the NIH findings, regarded as a highly negative activity since it does not render any immediate results. Just having a good old time is no longer good enough. Hordes of young Hollywood actors are submitting themselves to alcohol rehab centers after several daysí worth of carousing. They are far from what one would call ďalcoholics with experienceĒ. The overwhelming tendency in our society is to deprive everyone and everything of its colors and spend oneís days in the safety-net of grayness. Whether you are a movie star or an accountant, you are expected succumb to petty fears and worry about everything. About the quality of water. The quality of air. About getting old. Getting fat. About having less money than other worriers. The list of anxieties is endless.
If twenty years ago, Americans worked hard, they did so to reap the material rewards and enjoy the finer luxuries of life, such as delicious food and drink, travel to exotic places, hiring others to perform your daily chores and so on. Although I myself am not a big fan of over-industrial materialists of the 1980ís, I still have to admit that their lives made more logical sense than the lifestyles of todayís affluent class which slaves day in and out and does not have anything to show for it except fear of everything. They refuse to go to the beach because the ultraviolet rays might shorten their lives by some milliseconds; they deny themselves an occasional spicy dish because it might clog up their arteries; they do not chase members of the opposite sex fearing sexually transmitted diseases. In other words each and every day is dedicated to ensuring that their earthly life lasts forever! What is the point of such a life? -- that is one question that they never ask.
One of the most envied businessmen in America, the founder of Yahoo.com, Jerry Young, recently told a CNN reporter that nothing in his life has changed since he has acquired the estimated 11 billion dollars. ďI still have to take out my trash,Ē he said, ďand thatís what keeps me spiritually focused.Ē Havenít these millionaires heard of places like Venice or Salzburg? I daresay the St.Markís plaza in Venice is much more conducive to spiritual elevation than the sight of empty cans in his garbage-bin! The problem is todayís rich have become such overwhelming cowards that they have lost minimal interest towards lifeís experiences. In fact, their lives have ironically become harder than those of the poor because the latter do not work half as much in order to maintain the same anemic existence. And the poor are increasingly asking the same question: Why should I break my back to earn millions if those millions are not a guarantee of happiness? In my opinion, this is a field-day for those who have always insisted, to no avail, naturally, that money does not bring joy into oneís life. I agree, it doesnít if you refuse to spend it on yourself and others.
Happiness is itself a fleeting notion much like money and should be treated with a sense of humor. Perhaps, American millionaires should take lessons from their Russian counterparts whose extravagant lifestyles horrify them. They are taken aback by the ostentatious spending of Russiaís newly rich. In my opinion, Russians are treating money in the only possible and sane way: they spend it. What else is there do with it? American rich have become a living absurdity: like Sisyphus they are engaged in an eternal labor the results of which cannot be reaped. In fact, the richer they become, the grayer is their existence, which whether they smother themselves with cow dung or youth potion will come to an end. So why not light up a cigarette, pour a drink and toast to our poverty?
to the main page
to the content of essays page