Response: Happiness: The Next Big Project

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

There was an article in the Atlantic about about a year ago, examining a Harvard study that has been conducted for the last 72 years. I’m summarizing quite broadly but one of the many potential findings from this study has been that the only real determinant for long term happiness is the enduring bonds of love that one has with other people in one’s life. I find that really compelling – others might not.

I think the reason we (Western Society) have a problem being happy is because we are looking for happiness in all the wrong places: in personal accomplishment, in self-improvement, or, somehow, from inside of ourselves. Individualism both empowers and enervates our society. We achieve new levels of productivity, the corner office, and the bigger paycheck through our willingness to work longer hours and move or travel greater distances. In the process, we sacrifice intimacy with ones we love and who love us.

I think we’re dealing with the ugly side of liberalism. We’ve placed such a value on individual freedom that we’ve come to view having meaningful relationships with other people as a burden. At its worst, this freedom declares that love somehow comes without being responsible to others and twists spouses into “ball-and-chains,” friends into tidy things to fit into our schedules or not at all, and parents into people you occasionally go to visit in the nursing home. We can’t love and we can’t expect to be loved without being obligated to others (see also: “Up in the Air”). I think in this regard collectivist societies, many of whom we consider to be “developing,” show themselves to be far better developed than the West. Perhaps they’ll be kind enough to form NGOs to teach us how to be happy.


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