Football and cycling rank among the most popular sports in Belgium, but sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t consider complaining as our favourite national sport. Even though we’re one of the most-advanced and richest countries in the world, Belgians always find something to complain about. As is clear from media outlets online, it’s not just Belgians though. These days everyone and their dog partakes in what I like to call The Complain Game.
True to the idiom “give an inch and they’ll take a mile”, or the Dutch equivalent “offer a hand and they’ll expect an arm”, many folks forgot what it means to be satisfied. Even when they have everything going for them, something’s amiss. And the best part? It’s everyone else’s but their own fault.
It’s the economy. Their co-workers. The neighbours. Society is to blame. It’s the younger generations. It’s Germany’s fault. Migrants ruin everything.
The list goes on, and on, and on.
If I were to open a newspaper on any random page, you’d think life in the West is hell on earth. In reality this couldn’t be farther from the truth. At no point in the history of our planet has a civilization or society enjoyed greater privileges than we do right now.
Kings and queens, people at the top of the food chain as little as 200 years ago, would probably offer up their kingdom for
a horse the luxuries we currently take for granted. If Napoleon had the choice between the convenience of a modern super market or conquering all of Europe, you can bet on it that he would have picked the former.
Compared to the rest of the world, chances are moreover that you’re part of the elusive and exclusive 1%, a term shunned by the Occupy Wall Street movement. With my average worker’s salary I’m already in the top 1.07% of richest people in the world by income. At only 25 I furthermore belong to the top decile richest earthlings by wealth.
And I didn’t have to jump through hoops or do anything earth-shattering for it.
We are some of the luckiest people on earth because of the simple fact that we were born in the right place at the right time. We as a society have succeeded in institutionalising that luck by providing social security, general health care, and other types of government benefits. However, at the same time we have entrenched what many feel is an absolute and individualistic right to these benefits.
I’m all for societal services and government schemes, but whatever happened to a little self-reliance and self-empowerment? Reliance on your own powers and resources rather than those of others surely must go a long way in Western life and society, irrespective of the actions of others around you.
During the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay on self-reliance in which he concluded that “in order to be happy and peaceful, one should not care about the consumerism but should focus on his own situation.” And right he was. There will always be someone who enjoys a (subjectively) better life than you do, so why focus on what others have or do?
Stop complaining about others and focus on your own situation.
The long lost art of being self-reliant or self-dependent, which I’m mainly trying to achieve through financial means, makes for a great solution to life’s little complaints. Of course, full self-reliance constitutes a pipe-dream in our current society, but we can nevertheless go a long way ourselves.
By avoiding conformity and false consistency to societal norms, called consumerism by Emerson, we can shield ourselves from our first-world problems – and I don’t use that term loosely, because that’s what most complaints are: first-world problems that we inflict onto ourselves. In a nutshell, this is exactly what financial independence is about.
To a certain extent you can determine your own life by focussing on what’s most important to you and by matching your spending pattern accordingly. Never before have we been able to establish our own life paths to such a high degree, but still many people don’t make use of the opportunity.
Of course, charting a course different from everyone else’s isn’t easy. You may feel like a fish out of water, but that’s perfectly fine. While others continue playing The Complain Game, you’re making big strides forward towards your own prefered and optimal situation, where balancing wants and needs becomes the modus operandi.
Or, in more popular terminology, stop keeping up with the Joneses! Who cares what your neighbours are up to when you have everything you want out of life? You’ll find that once you figure out what makes you happy, the need to complain about everything and everyone around you disappears like snow before the sun.