Most people would agree that they want happiness and most would agree that they want prosperity, or at least enough money to live without worries. It seems however, that the “West” and the “East” have developed good insight on one side of this equation, yet each has missed the other side of it.
When it comes to happiness, “Westerners”, and I use this term loosely to refer to non-Arabs, Asians, Africans etc., are just beginning to understand that it is not a goal one sets out to reach, nor can it be bought in self-help books and endless mantras. Slowly but surely, the complexity of happiness is beginning to surface; the West is borrowing a lot its ideas about happiness from philosophies of the East and the idea that happiness is a byproduct of a full, meaningful life is slowly beginning to gain traction.
Nevertheless, despite the loss of common sense that was happening regarding happiness, “westerners” and particularly Americans have long understood that prosperity works somewhat like happiness in that it is not a goal one simply sets out to achieve but rather a byproduct of initiative, productivity and innovation.
As we move to the Eastern part of the world, we begin to see that while Arabs, for instance, have an intuitive understanding of the ethereal and complex nature of happiness; they have not made the parallel when it comes to prosperity. While around here, we would find a book that promises “10 steps to happiness” absurdly comical, we would, on the other hand, easily accept a pre-packaged plan for prosperity being sold to us by politicians, demagogues or even, “get rich quick schemes”, a new trend in the Arab world.
History should have taught us however, that whenever someone promises a quick, easy fix for a complex problem, we may be seriously heading for trouble. No perfect ideology or plan can provide jobs and shelter for everyone no matter how much we wish that it would. Likewise, we must begin to trust our inner wisdom more and realize that happiness too cannot simply be attained in a seminar on positive thinking. Though we may wish it were not the case, our inner lives and collective lives cannot begin to see more prosperity and more happiness until we accept, with courage, wisdom and integrity, that all worthy things require hard work.
By Bruna Kesserwani, Director of Operations, WYA Middle East.