“Instead of obsessing over the self-actualized perfected person, maybe we should care more about equality, community, vulnerability, and empathy. Maybe we should get out of our heads and be more present in the world around us.”
– Carl Cederström
I’ve come to the belief that if there is one single, overarching human innate hope, desire and want, it is to be forever happy. But happiness is both nebulous in understanding – just what is happiness, really – and ephemeral if attained – like most things, it is a short-lived, something always happens that erases it.
Happiness is very subjective, each of us thinks we think we know what would/does make us happy, and we spend all our energy and lives on the quest to realize it.
In my last post, “Where We Look For Happiness” (Sept. 1, 2018), I said that happiness is both a biological and psychological compulsion, and that what we think makes us happy is a learned thing – not only by trial and error by our own efforts, but also by observation and adoption of what apparently makes others around us happy, and that this dualism is never more evident than in the early teen years (especially in middle school) with the inner conflict of finding balance between seeking to be happy as an individual and at the same time finding happiness in being accepted as a member of one’s peers.
Where, I observed, unfortunately many never find the answer to that conflict. Especially among we Americans. It seems that, with everything we’ve accomplished, with the bounty of things we have, with all the opportunities we’ve made available to ourselves, we – collectively – are not a particularly happy people, nor are we a contented people.
According to be latest ranking by The World Happiness Report, as reported by The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/03/16/this-is-how-the-u-s-stacks-up-against-the-worlds-happiest-countries/?utm_term=.9d5a54794f41), the US isn’t even in the top ten, we come in at 13th of 126 nations, which isn’t exactly bad, but what’s worse, when measuring overall well-being (contentment with things as they are), we are 85th (between Chile and Slovenia).
To be American can mean many things, but if there is one thing that can define us, it’s that we are materialists – consumers – Capitalists. Which is not a bad thing. But how Corporate America has used marketing against us is – to be happy, to fit in, means to have the latest, newest thing, be it stylish clothes, smart footwear, mobile phone, car, or whatever; they have used psychology to manipulate us, individually and collectively.
In a Vox article by Sean Illing (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/9/4/17759590/happiness-fantasy-capitalism-culture-carl-cederstrom), Cederström gives a quick historical analysis of what happiness has meant to people over the ages, beginning with the Greek philosophers (the pursuit of simple pleasures), which was replaced by Christianity (self-sacrifice and the postponement of gratification to the afterlife), which was replaced by the Enlightenment (where “happiness became a fundamental right, something to which we’re entitled as human beings”), and ultimately the realization of that “fundamental right” in Market Capitalism. Cederström believes that our values of “liberation, freedom, and authenticity…[have been] co-opted by corporations and advertisers, who [have] used them to perpetuate a culture of consumption and production. And that hyper-individualistic culture actually makes us much less happy than we could be.”
And, given the evidence that we are not as happy a people as other people in the world are, maybe we should collectively re-think why we are not so content with our lot. Which leads back to Mr. Cederström’s thought in the quote above.
Maybe we Americans should stop emphasizing on what would make us individually happy and start looking for what makes everyone happiest – “maybe we should get out of our heads and be more present in the world around us.”
But is that too much to ask? Probably. We would no longer be the America we or the rest of the world would recognize.
Not that that would necessarily be an unhappy thing.