When I was in college, I worked part-time interviewing the public for Gallup and Roper.
I had a unique vantage point, knocking on doors in distant neighborhoods, seeking the raw opinions of everyday people. Our questions spanned a plethora of topics – from politics to brand awareness, faith to race relations. But among all these, one question stood out: "How happy are you?"
For the first time in 50 years, only 14% of Americans claimed to be very happy.
This is not just a statistic; it's a glimpse into the silent epidemic of unhappiness sweeping across the country. A staggering 10% of Americans have been diagnosed with depression, with many more feeling its weight.
Interestingly, 75% of 4th-grade girls and 66% of 4th-grade boys claim to be very happy.
Such alarming figures naturally led me to wonder: Why?
Why is happiness, a seemingly inherent emotion of childhood, fading away as we grow older?
Remember the days of carefree laughter, riding bikes, building forts, and being captivated by the simplest games? We were a generation fueled by imagination, unbounded by the world's limitations. But post fourth-grade, this happiness graph takes a nosedive.
As we mature, life becomes riddled with challenges.
Hormones, peer pressure, societal expectations, and myriad stressors crop up. But could there be another underlying reason for this decline in happiness?
While some factors are unavoidable in our journey to adulthood, one significant component of childhood joy is often overlooked - our vibrant imagination.
Children's hearts soar with the dreams and fantasies they conjure up in their minds. They see the world not as it is but as they imagine it to be. An empty box becomes an endless sea adventure or a thrilling car race. Their imagination allows them to experience joy, excitement, and happiness at will.
But as we grow older, we often shelve this incredible gift. The pressures of reality, the expectations of society, and the responsibilities of adulthood weigh heavily, dimming the light of our dreams. We no longer visualize our desires, and without a clear vision, we drift aimlessly.
Not only that, we're actually told by well-meaning authority figures that our dreams are unrealistic.
The Horse Whisperer
Monty Roberts is known internationally for his non-violent approach to training horses.
When Monty was in high school, he was assigned to write a paper about what he wanted to do with his life. Monty wrote that he wanted to change the way people trained horses, moving away from methods that used violence and fear.
After submitting his paper, his teacher gave him a failing grade, explaining that the goals he described were unrealistic. She told him that the traditional, often harsh, methods of horse training had been in place for centuries and were unlikely to change just because one person wanted them to. She suggested he rewrite the paper with a more achievable goal.
However, Monty was undeterred.
While the disheartening feedback from his teacher could have crushed the ambitions of many young students, Monty's mother, Marguerite Robert, played a crucial role in bolstering his resolve.
After receiving the failing grade and feedback, Monty shared the incident with his mother. Instead of concurring with the teacher's assessment or suggesting he find a more "realistic" dream, Marguerite told Monty that he shouldn't let someone else's disbelief deter him from pursuing what he felt was right.
She believed in her son's vision and recognized the importance of the change he sought in the horse training world.
Despite facing skepticism and resistance, Monty remained committed to his goal.
Today, Monty Roberts is known all over the globe for his profound impact on the horse training world and has written about his experiences and methodologies in books such as "The Man Who Listens to Horses," where he tells his personal story and elaborates on the development of his unique techniques.
Breaking Free from the Status Quo
Modern society often steers us towards a life ruled by pragmatism and routine, pushing us to conform to the status quo. It's like we're all stuck on autopilot, just cruising through the daily grind and accepting the lie that the "established order of things" is how we should all live.
But the reality is that the status quo is meant to keep you average. And nothing great every happened from a place of average.
In the words of the renowned American author, Orison Swett Marden, “All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.”
Besides Monty Roberts, consider other inventors, artists, and thinkers throughout history. Behind every masterpiece, every groundbreaking idea, was a dream.
Nikola Tesla envisioned a world powered by alternating current. Vincent van Gogh painted starry nights not as he saw them, but as he dreamed them. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that shaped the course of civil rights in America. Each of these visionaries dared to dream, and their dreams changed the world.
Dreams rejuvenate our soul, fueling us with passion and hope. They remind us of our purpose and our potentials, breaking the chains of self-doubt and fear. Dreams transport us to realms where possibilities are limitless and where our spirits find true freedom.
To dream is to allow yourself to break free from the status quo. And quite possibly, to allow yourself to step into that 14% who report being "very happy" with their lives.
So, let go of the constraints holding you back. Embrace the unknown and be the dreamer, the doer, the believer. For in doing so, you are one step closer to the life you've always imagined.