I Deserve What?

Walking down the corridor in the mall the other day I saw this advertisement.



Really?  Why?  And how?

The pursuit of happiness, according to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, is one of those inalienable rights right along with life and liberty. However, many of us in modern times have accepted the notion that we deserve the happiness, not just the pursuit of it.

What is happiness anyway?  And how can we get it?  Merriam-Webster defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment”.  For most of history, and even today for many of the world’s inhabitants, people are doing good to have something healthy to eat, yet I meet many people who have plenty of healthy food to eat and yet do not exhibit “a state of well-being and contentment”.  So what’s the deal?

Abraham Maslow proposed in 1943 that there is a “Hierarchy of Needs“, and unlike some famous pychologists, I think he was onto something (instead of some who I think were just ON something).


I’ll explain his idea, for those of you who didn’t encounter this pyramid in Psychology 101.  The most basic physiological needs are at the bottom of the pyramid: little things like breathing, food, water, sleep, and some others.  Once these needs are met, we automatically bump up to the next level.  We don’t even think about it; we just do.  This second level includes safety needs, with security of: health, property, family, employment, etc.  You can see in the image that the items on the top three levels (respect, friendship, creative outlets, etc.) are things that most of us are still striving for to one level or another.  This pyramid doesn’t have a big “Happiness” section at the top.

This is because we cannot live in a constant state of “well-being and contentment”.  Once we get one thing conquered, we move on to improving another item on the list.  So happiness is not a constant.  Sure, I have moments of contentment, but  I don’t know anyone who lives in a constant state of bliss.  If I did, I’ll be honest here, they would probably be very irritating.

If we walk through life with the belief that we “deserve to wake up happy”, we will by definition be unhappy.  In fact, most of us wake up just wanting a few more minutes of shut-eye.  And when we do finally stumble out of bed, we just want a cup of coffee, or if we take our caffeine cold, a glass of Pepsi.  So if I think I should wake up happy, I am in for, literally, a rude awakening

This ad is playing to that flawed expectation.  They are hoping that you will ask yourself, as you stroll along the mall, “Do I wake up happy?  Um, no, I don’t.  I guess I should go buy that comforter set.”   “Retail therapy” has put many people into bankruptcy.  Dave Ramsey has become a popular man by helping people to get out of debt.  As the saying goes, ” Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.”   I think just as many people, though, get into debt not to impress others, but by feeding that desire to “wake up happy.”

Life is a battle.  As Maslow knew, we constantly fight battles.  Some, like asthma or even lack of sleep, are important on the physiological level.  Others, like natural disasters and danger of losing a job, are safety related.  Others are less concrete, such as respect, friendship, and creative outlets.

And what do I deserve, anyway?  Without the blood of Jesus, I don’t deserve anything good.  My righteousness, the best I can do, is like filthy rags.

On a more humorous note, another ad I recently heard was sponsored by Fresh Steps cat litter.  The ad, which can be viewed here, closes with the statement, “Fresh Step.  Your cat deserves the best.”  Really?  Really?  I would agree that cats should be taken care of, safe, fed, maybe even pampered a little bit.  But “the best”?  (And of course, whether Fresh Step is the best is a different subject entirely.)

So I reject the idea that buying a new comforter set will make me wake up happy.  I reject the notion that I deserve constant happiness.  And I certainly reject the belief that a cat, whether smart or not, deserves the best.

And, paradoxically, I will be happier than most.


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