Happiness: The Next Big Project

In Uncategorized on November 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I wonder if and when human civilization will develop tools to secure psychological gains—gains in the happiness and dignity with which we live—commensurate with the material gains we’ve made over the past few hundred years.

Developed countries have conquered the material world to an astonishing extent. But we have made less progress in the psychological world, the world of our own experience. Insecurity and confusion remain, as does the basic conundrum of death. In fact, our psychological pain may in some ways be worse than in previous eras: we have the leisure and perspective to perceive it acutely, and have deprived ourselves of many of the traditional religious and communitarian support networks that used to imbue life with orderliness, stability, and meaning.

It’s hard to imagine a world largely without psychological torment. But a hundred years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a world largely without polio, and here we are. Certainly psychology is the next frontier for the developed world: our conquest of our external circumstances has fundamentally transformed our lives, but it will become increasingly obvious that the mind we carry around with us is what actually determines whether our lives feel worthwhile, and whether our actions benefit those around us.


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