A Discontent America

Jaxon Higgins, Staff Writer

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The psychological study of happiness, however popular, is insubstantial. Limited to the measure of dopamine release and the always erratic – self-evaluation, the area of study relies on insufficient data. To devote this many resources to the scientific study of an immeasurable aspect of human life is futile. In order to develop an opinion regarding the subject, observation and historical statistics are the only reliable sources. The debate and study of happiness is one of philosophy rather than pragmatic science. Feelings have never been concrete enough to study scientifically and to act as though happiness is any different is delusional. Witnessing the dramatic increase in suicide rates in the past years, an urgency to find a cure for dissatisfaction has surpassed the need to maintain an empirical mindset. Happiness is not a measurable facet of life, it is vastly different for every individual, a liability when attempting to do a controlled study. What one individual finds happiness in may bring an entirely different emotion to another, and where one is content to be alone, another is reliant on the company of others. The debate of the cause in an apparent drop in happiness in our culture is, while important, extremely limited.

The concept of being ‘happy enough’ is also known by another name – contentment. The typical objective of society is to find a state of mind in which it no longer becomes necessary to seek further sources of joy. To maintain general happiness for as long as possible without feeling the dissatisfaction that plagues so many. In our culture, it is commonplace to be constantly seeking the next promotion, the next rung on the ladder. Whether by putting in a ridiculous amount of time, or developing the cutthroat mindset that free capitalism tends to reward, Americans are very rarely content with the work they do. When careers take over lives, the cultural shift resembles that of Japan’s. Creating an environment in which satisfaction is synonymous with weakness. It is human nature to compare ourselves to those around us, a trait that is extremely detrimental to society with respect to standard happiness. In order to find joy in work, the competition must be solely internal. By no means must we stop seeking to improve, which is a line the younger generation has come dangerously close to, but the external competitions that drive unnecessary hours away from family must cease. When a family appears to value work over significantly more important aspects of life, these principles are passed on – intentional or not. In turn, children are raised with the idea that earning money comes before anything else, simply because that is what they witnessed. Raising a generation of discontent, attention-seeking individuals is becoming a danger in America, teaching the importance of satisfaction even in hard times must again become a societal value.

It is true that contentment is found much easier when worries about food or shelter are not on one’s mind. And thus makes money a necessary aspect of American life. However, the worship of money, while it may seem dramatic, has been present since the beginning of our country. Hedonism, or the search of maximum net pleasure in life, would be comical if not for its very real, present danger. This school of thought recognizes its own shortcomings by warning of the impending plateau of happiness. And yet young people nationwide still find this way of life so enticing that they devote their entire lives to it. The simple joys in life are surpassed by bigger and better things. Social contentment is no longer about finding a group of genuinely supported, invested loved ones, and is now based around the idea of maximum popularity. Quick fame has become so important to our culture that platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have become addictions. A lottery that one in millions will actually win, people spend their entire childhood trying to find a second in the spotlight. This disease is the polar opposite of the factor required to find true happiness, this dissatisfaction with the way things are, creates a toxic environment. The only way to combat this worldview is to self-reflect rather than externally contrast. As a society, our values must shift in order to create conditions that encourage contentment, and in turn cures the illness of unhappiness.