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9:20 pm - Wednesday November 13, 2019

Challenging Happiness – Exploring the Irony of Human Nature

| Career, Philosophy, Psychology | Rating: 4.5
by Numan

The irony of human nature – anxiety for those that have everything and depression for those that have nothing

The human state of mind has been cleverly characterized by someone to be either anxiety or depression. It seems that either you have attained what you desire and you are constantly afraid of losing it or you haven’t and therefore you are depressed.

I’ve read this rather bleak outlook on life yesterday along with another I’d like to share.
It seems that many successful individuals, who are and had “lived their dream”, are frustrated and unhappy, even more, perhaps more than the rest of us, common folk, if I may generalize. There is no shortage of examples of successful people who were not able to cope with success and had cracked under it.

Still, I’d like to avoid the course of cliché or the common argument true happiness exists only in the more “noble” things in life like reason, religion, art, love or anything else that comes to mind.
Rather I’d like to question the idea of happiness in itself and hopefully draw some conclusions in the end.
Is there happiness to be had?
Philosophers of language enjoy dissecting words and meanings and happiness is defiantly one of the most interesting concepts we have.

To put is in very simple terms – Is there happiness to be had at all? Couldn’t happiness be just a concept embedded in our language misleading us all?

The question of meaning is deep and challenging. Concepts such as happiness, along with truth, god, soul, mind and others are under constant scrutiny. The idea in itself is simple and powerful – The fact a word exists does not deduce any sort of meaning what so ever.

I think we can all agree, empirically speaking, that happiness is not an enduring state of mind but rather comprised of moments. We sometimes feel happiness surging through us but that may well be the effect of our body chemistry. This notion of experienced utility has been discussed and researched by Noble Laureate Daniel Kahneman which argued happiness is the subjective feeling in each moment defined, in turn, as the minimum range of time a person is self-aware of his or her feeling. Readers of The Personal Financier know I’m very fond of his work on psychology and economics.

Hollywood has probably contributed to the western notion of happiness more than any other influence by putting happiness into terms of family, love, success, money, power, freedom etc.
In fact, the state of happiness in individuals, or the capability to be happy, as we relate to it, is considered to be more than 50% genetic in its source. This simply means not all of us were cut out to be happy.
Happiness and worldly possessions
The notion material achievements do no lead to happiness, as demonstrated, with some humor, in the anxiety-depression paradigm is very deeply rooted in human civilization.

The bible, philosophers and modern day cliché coachers have all discussed the inability of worldly possessions to make us happy. While the latter maybe selling something the former have genuinely tried to demonstrate the way to a happier existence.

Contemporary theories reinforce earlier views according to which money, as the essence of worldly possessions has a much lower contribution to happiness that is usually attributed.

The reason, as modern psychologists have demonstrated in empirical experiments, is not that money isn’t important. Money plays a significant role, but only up to a certain minimum point. After the point basic needs have been fulfilled it’s how much money one has in comparison with others that matters most. People have demonstrated destructive behavior in experiments where one was willing to lose 25% of his or her capital to “destroy” 50% of another’s.

Career is very much the same. We measure ourselves on the social scale. How can one be happy when there’s always someone younger and ahead?
Frustration – The irony of the human psyche
Our frustration ironically increases when we achieve our dreams and goals. Suddenly the gap in expectations explodes in our faces and we are overwhelmed by the emptiness of the peak.

More often than not our expectations are much grander than reality. Imagine your last vacation, for example, to a beautiful destination. Did its beauty surpass your expectations? It does sometimes, but usually reality has its surprises in store for us.

The irony of human nature and our psyche is apparent. We were programmed, either by God or evolution (take your pick) to constantly seek out new challenges and new goals. We are quickly accustomed to any situation that is, at the moment, our current situation and we always believe happiness is right around the corner.

By constantly striving we (arguably) better ourselves but fail, again and again, to find peace of mind and the sought after happiness.
Well, it seems that if you are lucky genetics has already assured you 50% chance at happiness. The rest of us may have to work a bit harder.

My personal belief is that being aware of our psychological “deficiencies” is one of the better ways to tackle the issue of happiness. By acknowledging the elusive nature of happiness, the need to constantly set and conquer new goals and by learning to appreciate the more humble states of calmness, tranquility and long-term satisfaction we may find peace of mind and general well being.

My personal tendency is to agree with the philosophic arguments according to which reason is the source of long-term well being (I avoid using happiness). The little exercise I suggest here is exactly that. Gaining awareness and employing reason into understanding the elusive nature of happiness and our human limitations.

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