I believe that everyone should have the right to pursue happiness. This is not a new concept. It was stated in the American Declaration of Independance: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.“
But what do I really mean by Happiness? The obvious answer is that happiness is whatever makes one feel good. Most of us spend some if not much time finding things that we hope will bring happy into our stress dominated and often unhappy lives. We shop online or at shopping centers or go on vacations or party it up to bring us some sort of happiness. Some even seek recreational drugs to induce a state of pleasure to make themselves feel good. Others engage in religious and social activities to bring happiness into their lives.
Most of these activities bring only brief periods of happiness. Once the effects of these activities ceases and one returns to the everyday grind of daily living one tends to fall back into their state of neutrality or unhappiness. Most of our pursuits for enduring happiness fail us. Our dopamine highs are only transient.
I think the problem lies in the fact that we tend to seek happiness by doing things for ourselves. This is a self-serving kind of happiness to placate our egos. Such means takes an enormous amount of ongoing effort to maintain. I tend to buy things online to bring myself happiness but as soon as I’ve played with it a few hours or days I find that it does not bring me continued happiness so I put it aside and later buy something else.
However when I do something good to help another, especially a strangers, I find that the feeling of accomplishment and happiness last far longer even if I have given up something precious to me such as time or money. It’s strange how giving altruistically brings far more lasting satisfaction and happiness than doing pleasurable things for myself. This seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.
Why is this so? In past articles (i.e. Of Modern Times and the Caveman and It’s in the Nature of Things) I reflected upon our prehistoric beginnings. We are a social animal. We could not survive individually. We are genetically programmed to work cooperative together as a social community. However civilization has taken survival, in the physical sense, out of our lives. Our social structure in the Western world now emphasizes individuality, freedom, and independence. We live in a largely artificial world where pleasures are sought through material and self-serving means.
The social essence in our genes has been suppressed and replaced by civilized pseudo-socialization. Our lives no longer resemble the social fabric of community living and cooperation. Interestingly one of the happiest places to live in the world is Denmark where there exist communities of community living where people eat together and take care of each others children and generally look after one other, like one huge extended family. Children play safely with other children and learn to share. These communities are purely volunteer. Housing is very modest, modular, and efficiently laid out. The emphasis is upon family living, not large houses or jobs or money. Since the cost of living is so low in these communities residents do not have to earn much money so they work a straight 8 hr. or less a day and come home to spend more time with their families and community. Everyone is taken care of from cradle to grave. Healthcare and senior living are virtually free and seniors help with the kids. Transportation and shopping are shared. Such communities come much closer to the ways of our ancient ancestors than modern civilization.
People need to feel engaged and close to other people in their communities in order to feel sustainably happy. The closer one gets to this state the overall happier one becomes. People who personally help other people in need generally feel happier about themselves than people who use other self-serving means to make themselves feel good. Socializing in a cooperative way, as opposed to partying, where people are working together for a common good can be quite rewarding. This kind of community living comes closest to our ancient genetic disposition. I can only guess that our ancient ancestors lived happy lives based upon such happy societies today.
We are very much like some wild socialized animals where socialization often causes physical and psychological problems. We often do not know who our next door neighbors are after living years in our neighborhoods. Our governments no longer functions because legislatures don’t know how to work together for the common good. We need to be more aware of who we were more than 10,000 years ago. We have not significantly changed genetically in that time so our basic needs remain the same. True Happiness lies in that social essence we have lost sight of through civilization so long ago.