Whether we enjoy being a part of modern society or not, it shapes our perceptions in so many ways. We don’t even realize that many of the things we like and strive for in life come from social conditioning.
But the problem is that many of the psychological needs society imposes on us are seriously overrated. We hold onto the illusion that fulfilling them will make us happy and successful, but in reality, we never feel truly accomplished.
Why? Because we are looking in the wrong place. Let’s try to shatter a few of these illusions.
Have you fallen into the trap of chasing any of these things because society told you so?
Everyone wants to be a leader. It’s a dynamic role that is associated with power, confidence, and success.
Popular culture constantly sells us the glorious image of a leader; we see it on TV and cinema screens. It’s everywhere from annoying TV spots to the most popular movies – brave men save the world and strong-willed women make their dreams a reality.
But the truth is that we are not all meant to be leaders. Everyone is meant for a different purpose in life. If you don’t have the qualities necessary for a leadership role or lack the desire to lead others, it doesn’t mean that you are worthless and doomed to fail.
It just means that your mission in life lies in something else. Maybe you were born to teach others or to start a great family. Maybe you have a great scientific mind or a vast creative potential. None of these things requires you to be a leader.
There are so many ways one could find meaning in life and contribute to the greater good. Leading others is just one of those. The ideal of a leader is just seriously overrated in our society.
While there is nothing wrong with being career-oriented and striving for prosperity, our society has taken it to a whole new level. Acquiring more stuff seems to be one of the most crucial achievements in life we all should strive for.
‘Work hard for a promotion so you can get a bigger house. Now you can afford a more expensive car, holidays in a luxury hotel, and high fashion brand clothes.’
It’s a familiar pattern so many people fit their lives into. Yes, it’s perfectly natural to want to have a certain level of comfort, but are all those brand clothes and luxury retreats going to make you happier?
What our materialistic society doesn’t want us to remember is that genuine happiness is in simple pleasures. It doesn’t matter how many stars your hotel has or how expensive your outfits are if your life is unfulfilling and dull. Countless studies show that material gains don’t improve our well-being.
The need to own stuff is based on our natural tendency to compare ourselves with others. We don’t want to be worse and less accomplished than those around us, and society skillfully uses our insecurities to encourage us to make unnecessary expenses.
So when we see people of our age who achieved more than we did, we start to feel like a failure, and our inner critic whispers,
‘Tom is at my age and already has his own place. Am I worse than Tom?’
We all have found ourselves in such thought patterns. This is the effect of social conditioning in action. But the truth is that unless you face your inner demons, you won’t stop feeling like a failure. And no amount of bought stuff will help you get rid of this illusion of inadequacy.
Being a nice person is another example of the things that are overrated today. Looking friendly, having small talk, and saying the right social niceties seem to be among the most important communication skills one could have. Without these skills, it’s much more difficult to move forward in life.
The keyword here is looking. Not being friendly or caring about others – just being able to make the right impression. You can be a nice person, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are also a kind person. For example, you may secretly hate the co-worker you just had lovely chitchat with.
Since our society has the persistent tendency to give too much emphasis on superficial things, niceness is valued more than kindness and integrity.
Thus, it’s no surprise that today’s people are taught to be offended by things like word choices and gestures. Yet, from a very young age, they learn to be perfectly okay with hypocrisy.
In essence, many people find the truth more offensive than fakeness disguised as friendliness. This is a social paradox I personally will never understand.
The desire to be popular is based on our natural need for social validation that is universal for all humans on Earth.
As children and teenagers, we crave the approval of our peers. We want to be accepted in a social group and thus do our best to look and behave like the most popular members of this group.
But with the power of social media, this game has extended to all ages. The desire to be liked by everyone has become a real plague of the modern world. While it’s perfectly normal behavior for a teenager, it can be damaging and counterproductive for an adult.
Remember your teenage years? Back then, the most popular peers were confident and outgoing. They had the most fashionable outfits and the coolest hobbies and music tastes. Such teens were friends with everyone in school. And whether we realized it or not, we strived to be like them.
But the problem is that we all are different (forgive me this cliché), and putting effort into being more like someone else is pointless. Not only do you waste precious resources such as your time and energy, but you also drift away from your real purpose in life.
The truth is that our desire to be liked by everyone is cultivated by modern society for the sake of increasing consumption. If we were totally indifferent about being popular among those around us, we wouldn’t follow fashion trends and buy all that useless stuff.
Introverts struggle with this problem more than anyone else. In our society, it’s considered to be normal to have a big social circle and go after recognition and popularity. When you have little interest in group activities and meeting new people, you may feel inadequate – just because you find these things overrated and not rewarding enough.
Once again, I’m not against the idea of being determined to reach success. After all, many people live their purpose through their job, so achieving career progress is an important life goal for them.
But there are also those who are not interested in getting a promotion and making more money because they don’t find these overrated things fulfilling enough. They discover meaning in life by being great parents, living in harmony with Nature, or engaging in creative pursuits.
Yet, our society makes such people feel inadequate. Reaching career success is considered one of the key achievements in life, and without it, everything else feels insufficient. It’s a similar story to being obsessed with leadership.
How many books and articles have been written about productivity and time management? It can seem like being busy all the time is a marker of a well-rounded personality and a one-way road to succeeding in life.
But what we forget is that the definition of success is different for everyone, just like the definition of happiness or love. We don’t fit into the same mold society created for us. And we don’t necessarily need to participate in this crazy rat race to be successful. It’s just one of those things that are overrated due to social conditioning.
The craving for perfection stems from the desire to be popular but also better than others. It’s another psychological trick used by the fashion and beauty industry that plays on our insecurities.
How many of us are totally happy with their physical appearance? Most of us are critical of our looks, and the consumer society is using it against us.
We see countless pretty faces on our Instagram feed – all made flawless by Photoshop, makeup, and plastic surgery. These faces and bodies are so perfect that they are nearly indistinguishable.
What cosmetics industries and plastic surgery clinics want us to forget is that our flaws are what make us unique. If we didn’t have them, we would look like mannequins in a shop window. So gorgeous and yet, so lifeless and alike.
And of course, the need for perfection is not bounded to physical appearance. It’s also true about the aspiration to live a perfect life, have a perfect family, be a perfect parent, etc. Or at least to create the illusion of perfection.
Social media contribute greatly to this psychological need of ours. Sometimes it looks as if there is some kind of contest online to find who lives the most perfect life. But the saddest thing is that most of the time, those picture-perfect post updates on social networks are fake.
I once heard a story about a couple who would rent luxury cars and buy brand clothes for one day just to take pictures and upload them on Facebook. The other day, they would return both the car and the clothes.
Now, what kind of self-esteem issues can push someone to do all this just to upload fancy photos on social media? It’s the cult of perfection and vanity that makes insecure people chase false ideals.
You can’t totally isolate yourself from society, but you can make sure it won’t turn you into someone else. All it takes is to listen to your reactions. Your inner being is there and is desperately trying to reach you through vague doubts and unexplained emotions. Usually, when we are following the wrong path in life, we find ourselves feeling stuck in a rut, bored, or unhappy.
Keep in mind that many of the things society wants you to chase are just overrated and won’t bring you genuine happiness and accomplishment.
Is my list missing any other things that are overrated in our society? Please share your suggestions in the comments below!