A mounting problem exists both in our schools and in our culture. Teens gone wild, reckless spending and irresponsibility by adults, it's all coming to fruition in an economy and culture teetering on the edge of a serious downturn.

Gas prices are skyrocketing, as everyone waits, idling, in their huge SUVs, humongous diesel pickups, and other assorted ego extenders - for someone else to do something about it. Savings accounts are nonexistent; credit cards maxed out, home values dropping like rocks, as teens as well as parents frantically mill around in a daze, searching for the next excitement and pleasure. Not a moment can go by without an electrifying stimulus of some kind - drugs, sex, video games, all kinds of entertainments; anything that will keep our minds occupied.

But it's not working. The money (credit) is running out. Teens are becoming increasingly depressed, along with their parents, and a general dissatisfaction is creeping in, a subconscious acknowledgement that something is wrong. The happiness that is naturally inherent in human beings is lacking, and we are slowly losing our compassion as we argue with each other more stridently every day about our problems.

This is all understandable. People believe that freedom means a license to do as we please, but that's not freedom at all; that's bondage, because doing whatever we please involves great conflict. First, we must choose what we think will make us happy, and then we must aggressively go after it. Therefore, there is judgment and striving involved. If for some reason our judgment is flawed and what we thought we wanted turns out to be what we didn't want after all, or if we can't get what we want, then we become unhappy

Still, people will say that goals are necessary to keep them happy, and convince themselves that they are happy even though many people are unhappy inside. Maybe, as silly as this sounds, few goals and a disciplined life, which sounds horribly boring, is the surprising answer to complete happiness.

A good beginning is to realize that regardless of our efforts, we are not happy. This acknowledgement is necessary for any authentic change to take place in our lives despite our accomplishments. Regardless of what we seem to do, there is not the lasting satisfaction that we thought would result, and we are becoming increasingly unhappier.

Therefore (and this sounds awfully dull ) the way to reverse this is to go against what we have been doing, simply because when we do the same things, we can expect the same results, Therefore we have to change if we are unhappy. We can't just keep going down the same road, because it will always lead to the same destination.

In 1981, I was privileged to live in Thailand for an extended period of time. I lived in the poorest section near the Cambodian border where the villagers lived in abject poverty, having little more than aspirin to cure their various ills - and a bare hut to live in. Only rice and a few vegetables graced their tables. But they were happy.

I remember their smiles, their complete honesty, and their desire to make my life, a rich American, as good as they could manage. I never met people like this before, and I couldn't help but compare the attitudes of the Thai teenagers with some of the kids back home. The Thais were all smiles, holding hands, leading their Water Buffalo and laughing as they walked to the rice fields every morning to work all day in the Asian heat.

As I lived with these people, I came to realize what made them so content. It was a natural discipline brought about by the realty of the conditions when living close to the earth, and the quietness and simplicity of living close to the earth, requiring them to pull together for a common cause because they had no room for error. Their lives consisted of discipline, simplicity, and, for lack of a better phrase, being completely satisfied and happy with their situation in life.

I went back to Thailand in 1997 and lived in similar circumstances. By then, many of the teenagers had migrated to Bangkok where the new opportunities were, and the villages were improved technologically. Health services were available, and many of the farmers were sporting new, little Toyota pickup trucks. Thailand had changed, and although the people were still friendly and warm, it wasn't the same.

I often thought about this and how there is a trade off for our technological advances, as necessary and vital as they are, and I wonder if we have lost our original discipline, simplicity and contentment that are our human heritage - three things that have been with us for as many years as we have walked the earth.

Is it still possible to salvage a little of that discipline, simplicity and contentment that has always been our natural state of being? Technology may extend our lives for a few years, but what will be the quality of those years? As I look around at our society and the pressures that are building, I yearn for the simpler times, and I realize as well, from many years of meditation, that the simpler times are nowhere to be found but right inside us all, even in the midst of all this technology.

Our mental state, our minds, is where everything begins and ends, It's right here that we can make tremendous changes in our lives. We will determine, in our minds, if, when given the choice, we will become disciplined, and have the maturity to take long-term instead of short-term views. Our minds will also decide if we will simplify our lives, and it will be our minds that reap the reward of either contentment or discontent depending on our choices.

I believe that the world could be a better place tomorrow; and that we wouldn't have to necessarily make it so. Perhaps there is nothing we have to do at all except for each of us to live a simple, disciplined life, remaining as close as we can to this earth, taking care of this earth, and seeing if we become happier.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com