Many people have ideas about how society should be, but they don't always consider their own lives to be part of the equation.
Let's imagine that generally, most people wish that everyone in their community could have a happy life. Let's say it's a universal human goal for as many people to be as happy as possible.
Now imagine that we are all pixels on a computer screen. Our color indicates the experiential quality of our life: red is very unhappy, yellow is mediocre, green is very happy, and there are all shades in between. (Forgive my simplistic use of red = bad, green = good!)
Then our goal is for the light shining from the screen to be as green as possible.
I find that some people get so hung up on the other red pixels they see, that their own lives degrade into a red state. They see all the red and decide that their own life can't be green until there is more green around them. And yet, the only pixel you can directly control is your own; to get a fully green screen, every pixel has to decide to be green! We all make up the screen. A happy world means not only that everyone else be happy, but YOU, too. Your life is a part of this thing, we are all the universe. (It's along the lines of "be the change you wish to see".)
One question is: can a pixel create a net greenward trend while remaining red?
Is it possible to sacrifice your own life, your own well being, for the sake of the greater good around you? Or in neglecting your own happiness and living a miserable life, is that negative energy all you can radiate into the world?
I saw a quote that said something along the lines of: "The only thing you ever have to offer someone else is your present state of being." I thought this was profound, because so much of the time we try to cover up our own feelings for the sake of someone else. I don't really feel like spending time with my friends tonight, but I told them I would, so for their sake I'll put on a happy mask and endure it. But does this ever fool anyone? If your own state of being is that you are feeling reclusive, and out of energy for other people, you're probably not really sharing something positive like you hope -- if you want to be alone, better to do that.
What about the stereotypical family with a dad who labors arduously to provide for his wife and kids? Some people do thrive on constant hard work, but others don't love it so much. If you're working 60+ hours a week, never home for your family, stressed out and exhausted whenever you're with them, and miserable with yourself, is this really better than cutting back on the hours and finding more frugal ways to live, so that you can be more relaxed and present with your loved ones? I think we have this idea that self-sacrifice is noble but I suspect it does more harm than good.
Personally I think that some people can manage to help others turn green even though their lives are red. Maybe a crazy inventor lives in lifelong isolation yet provides helpful technologies to the world. Maybe a workaholic earns a lot of money and donates 80% of it to really great causes. Maybe someone who is familiar with a destructive system can cripple that system at the cost of their own life or freedom.
But I suspect that this is overall a less effective route than the alternative: being as brightly green as you can, and letting that be contagious to those around you. A green life has more attentiveness to its own needs, and therefore provides itself a stronger foundation for reaching out and helping others. More fundamentally, it involves a recognition that a happy society means a happy YOU. Because your happiness is worth just as much as anyone else's.
So don't be afraid to be happy, or feel guilty about it.
A fair question might be -- "if turning your own life green means thoughtlessly enjoying every privilege that comes your way, and benefiting from economic and social systems that perpetuate poverty and disease for others, isn't your greenness at the expense of someone else's redness?" Yes! But I also think that seeking to find a happy life based on material possession, privilege over others, and perpetual injustice is a dead end. These lives are perceived as green but the people who live them don't tend to feel very good. Seeking a truly green life is more likely to involve minimizing, simplifying, gaining humility and compassion. (Says the houseless guy. Obvious bias here!)
So it's always important to think about how your choices are impacting others, whether you're happy or unhappy, but as far as your own choice to feel green or red inside your own head -- why not choose green?
Of course it isn't that simple for everyone, myself included, and those who suffer from depression will be laughing at me. I don't mean to minimize the difficulty of finding real peace, joy, and meaning. I just don't think we should arbitrarily choose to suffer when other options are easily within reach, thinking that choosing pain for ourselves will somehow be good for others.