I’ve just had a very interesting conversation with Howell.
He believes that we’re not all able to achieve happiness to the same degree because “we’re not all mentally wired for it”. He told me that our understandings are so warped by society’s collective expectations that we, as individuals, lose sight of what is important to us. – “That can really fuck your head up.”
Howell spoke of the way that the media imposes “unattainable ideas of beauty and success” upon us for the entire duration of our lives. This happens to such a great extent that “nobody is happy with what they have”.
He said that he thinks “happiness and being content are the same thing really”. Howell is far more content than he was two years ago; when he first started sleeping on the streets. When I asked him why he thought that was he told me: “It’s about acceptance. People are so worried about what other people think of them that they lose sight of themselves.”
We talked about the way that people everywhere are stuck, just trying to keep their heads above the savage waters of expectation. The expectations that most of us conform to are never entirely rooted in our own personal ideals– the same goes for those expectations we impose upon others. If we take enough time to think this through it becomes obvious that the demands of a society are far stronger than those of an originally-minded individual.
“I see so many people in suits” says Howell, “rushing around and not taking anything in. Their heads are bobbing, tie over their shoulder – just trying to get to the next place. Nobody is in the moment.”
I asked him if he believes humanity to be happy in general. “Not by a long shot” was his response. “The distribution of wealth and power is not right and that means no-one has got their priorities straight”.
He compared the human race to a colony of ants, acting “not out of agency, but more like an algorithm” treading set paths with no real purpose.
That analogy made me consider how the human race is largely distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom by the development of a part of the brain known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is the area responsible for cognition and reasoning, perhaps even what we describe as free will. Howell and I agreed that a large number of seemingly “lobotomised” people do not utilise this part of the brain enough to harness the great potential that most of us have.
Neither Howell, nor myself are psychologists. We did however speculate that the pre-frontal cortex seems on a wide scale to be used for thoughts on success in material or worldly terms. People have been conditioned to define success in such terms because they are in accord with the influential and yet unattainable values of faceless societies. So much of our rational thought therefore precedes and perpetuates negativity and discontent.
I would urge you to question your motives when you do something charitable. Howell pointed out that “a lot of people help out and give change in order to make themselves happy, or at least feel better.” That is no problem for Howell; as he put it: “that suits me fine. It’s the same for me either way, but I can see right through it.”
He spoke with no bitterness when he said:
“Around Christmas time, I do well out here but come the first of January… BAM. Nothing. People have wiped away their Christmas guilt and they say to themselves – Right, I’ve done my bit. I feel better now.”
More often than not, our motivations to do anything are selfish and yet Howell assured me that it’s not a bad thing, just a trait that we all share and would benefit from being aware of.
Towards the end of our conversation, Howell told me:
“People make each-other happy, but only if we treat each-other with love” – For this reason, we need to feel love in ourselves if we are to make others happy.
“We reflect our mind-set onto others.” This is a truth to bare in mind because it is far more than a matter of personal responsibility. “No man is an island”.