The Pursuit of Happiness

How dow we become so happy as these three people look? Photo by Ketut Subiyanto.

Throughout the existence of the human civilization, we have continuously raised the bar of human excellence. Our priorities keep on changing with time. We keep on moving the goal post, and we are stuck in a game where there are no winners and many losers. Globalization all over the world was greatly increased by the growth of Empires. The Roman Empire, the Chinese dynasties and the Ottoman Empire are a few of the most successful empires that changed the course of the world and influenced our culture today. We have these empires to thank for a lot of inventions that are still used till today. Empires have also served as a breeding ground for many of today’s world religions. In the 1st century, Christianity was born from a small group of Jews in Judea, but slowly spread to become the main religion of the Roman empire. Likewise the Ottoman empire was vital in the spread of Islam and other cultural and technological advances. The Roman and Ottoman Empire are long gone, but Christianity and Islam are still fighting strong and shows no signs of throwing the towel. The bigger the empires grew, the more diverse the inhabitants became, and the more difficult they were to rule. This was not sustainable, and eventually led to its collapse. Just like a balloon filled with air. After a certain point, taking in more air, just weakens the balloon and can only lead to a big pop. 

This coloseum was once filled in all layers, by all layers of the Roman Empire society (photo by Chait Goli).

The rise of empires haven’t all been positive. They have caused a lot of death and destruction, loss of cultural identity, slavery, wars and many more unspeakable deeds. The ideology born from these empires continues to traverse the globe. Globalization has always come in the form of a double edged sword. The Spanish raid of the Americas, the British and French ransack of Africa. There is no justification for all the misdeeds done by the conquerors but you can argue that ill-gotten treasures obtained have been the major drivers of the European economy and technological advancement.

Before we go any further, let us try to differentiate between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure, and Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice frequently triggers this emotion. Feeling spiritually connected to a god or to people. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to both feelings as Happiness.

Globalization is spurred on by our human need for happiness. The humanist definition of happiness is the absence of suffering. Humans will do anything to avoid suffering, even if it means inflicting suffering on others. The people entrust the government with the power to decide who suffers for the collective happiness of the society. 1930 Germany wasn’t a good place, loss of jobs and suffering was prevalent.  The Nazi party took this as an opportunity to spread its evil agenda, while giving the populace a sniff of the happiness to come. Happiness at what cost? What evil are you willing to overlook for your happiness? The slave trade was born out of a necessity to create and maintain happiness. Slaves who can listen, work tirelessly and be at your every beck and call. This is an example of choosing who suffers for your happiness. Animals and nature are no exempt from these sufferings. Oil drilling have led to the deaths of many animals, and loss of precious habitats. Air pollution have reduced the population of wild birds. Our ancestors hunted and killed most giant pre-historic faunas. So much so that 60% of animals on earth are domesticated for our happiness to be used as pets, food, sports and beast of burden.

Chemicals that can have a influence on your happiness are used in modern science (photo by Pixabay).

Modern Science and technology is driven by the quest to increase our happiness. The scientist definition of happiness is the balance of certain chemicals in our brains like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins that have been proven to control our happiness. In actuality, these chemicals are all hormones that are naturally produced by our bodies. Keeping it simple, If you’re in a good mood, you’ve got these hormones to thank. And if you’re in a bad mood, you’re suffering from a low dose of our 4 friendly hormones. Serotonin is linked to our mood, oxytocin is secreted when we experience love, dopamine is the reward chemical, and endorphins work as pain killers. These hormones are released during exercise, sleep, eating, sex and other natural human activities. An imbalance or deficiency of these chemicals can lead to psychological effects that are detrimental to our overall well-being. You might think; Science comes to save the day yet again, but our knight in shining armor cannot stop saving the day even if he wanted to. Modern science is a business, driven by capitalists who are in a race to discover the new invention or the new cure to keep our fragile hearts beating forever and I don’t know if I like the sound of that. Earlier in the passage, we read that human civilization keeps on raising the bar of excellence. Imagine a hotel that keeps on constructing new floors to its already towering masterpiece, without securing the floors beneath. That’s the world we live in. Eventually, creaks and cracks begin to form, and the majestic building is threatened by its own weight. We already established that human excellence is driven by our quest for happiness, but are our brains playing a trick on us? Do we pursue happiness as a way for continuous human improvement? We are happy when we win but that feeling might only last a short period of time, so to keep being happy we have to keep winning. That sounds exhausting. Philosopher Alan Wilson Watts answered the question; Why don’t we know what we want? He gave two answers.

1; we already have what we want, but we aren’t satisfied;
2; we don’t know ourselves well enough to know what we want. Hence, trying to acquire happiness through worldly gains is useless because there would be no end.

The pusuit of happiness not only brings happiness (photo by Na Urchin).

There is another way of thinking in juxtaposition to these answers. The pursuit of happiness seems as a quest that can only result in positiveness. But that is if we see it only as positive and according to Belgium psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter, it’s not. Even stronger, he calls ‘the idea that life should be primarily joyful’, ’the illness of our time’. In a time in which we never had it so good and are so rich (talking about the western world), more people visit the psychiatrist. Why is this? Why are so many people depressed? And why is there such a big gap between ‘having a good life’ and ‘enjoying a good life’? According to Dirk De Wachter, it’s because we are obsessed with happiness. With life come normalities and sadness now and then, and we should accept these parts as much as we embrace the happy moments in life. Why? Because a pursuit (of happiness) is tiring and not always necessary if you are satisfied with a ‘normal life’. But even stronger; in sadness you can find one of the greatest gifts life has to share: love. Love is exposed and transferred especially in the more difficult moments of our existence on earth. There is the paradox that something that we want (love) is created by something we don’t want (sadness). But sadness is shuffled under the carpet too often in this society (take social media for instance). You can find each other in sadness and in love. From that partnership, conversations can be born and grow that are much cheaper, interesting and loving “than a talk with me.” Dirk De Wachter says.
“But don’t forget; as important as talking, is seeing and embracing each other.”
That’s not a pursuit…
“It’s a necessity.” He concludes (De Wachter, D., 2018).

Our ancestors were able to live healthier and longer without modern medicine and technology. Their lives are a complete opposite to an average wall street top dawg. I’ll paint a picture of the life of one of our ancestors, Oye. Oye is awoken by the sound of a crowing Cockerel. He says his prayers, and he rushes to the well to fetch water for his shower, but most importantly, for the crops planted behind his family house. He walks to school in a brisk, enjoying the fresh air and sunlight, but still fearing what befalls him if he shows up one minute late past the school bell. At the end of the day, he strolls home chit chatting with friends and eating some well ripened guava. At home he eats some freshly cooked Jollof rice and chicken together with his parents, as they joke about stories of the past. Oye lights a candle to finish his homework, and swats some blood thirsty mosquito aiming for his juicy legs. He goes to bed early so he can get some extra minutes, before that darned cockerel crows again. Oye has a relatively healthy and happy life, but he has a low standard of living. Poor amenities and lack of vaccination against killer diseases makes him vulnerable. Oye’s life is very different from today’s average European. Science and technology has drastically improved our standards of living and taken us out of the dark ages, and we should be grateful, but we still crave some aspects of Oye life. We need to differentiate between standard of living and quality of life. It can be argued that human increase in technological advancement is inversely proportional to our quality of life. Our life today is plagued with long working hours, sedentary living, radiation poisoning, ingestion of junk food, Broken family relationships, pollution, and lots more technological baggage. Scientist have however found it difficult to replicate their success with standard of living in our quality of life levels. 

Quality of live is not only decided by the standard of living (photo by Anouar Olh).

Remember the four friendly chemicals in our brains? Well science has decided to solve our low quality of life problem by hacking these chemicals. Of course it is cheaper and easier to solve the problem internally (in our brains) rather than tackling the problem in our external environment. Simply put, the scientist solution to increasing our happiness is by dosing us up with drugs to improve our mood. With all that has been said, we need to understand that mental illness is a real issue in our society and It should be approached with all seriousness. Some people require prescribed drugs to deal with genuine psychological problems. My only argument is that before we attempt to attack the problem from within, we try to change catalysts in our environment that caused the problem in the first place.

“Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The first question was, “Did you bring joy?” The second was, “Did you find joy?””

-Leo Buscaglia

This piece of historic knowledge proves that the pursuit of human happiness has been a quest since the beginning of time. I truly believe that these two questions are connected and have to be answered as one. Is it possible to find joy, without bringing joy? And is it possible to bring joy, without finding joy. You hear of so many unhappy comedians who are plagued by depression and eventually end up committing suicide. Didn’t they bring joy? I thought the deal was to bring joy, and then you will definitely find joy? Well, maybe the equation only works if the joy is brought as a service to others, in our deeds and actions.

John 13:1-17 tells a story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. Jesus who was a teacher and leader humbled himself enough to wash the feet of his disciples. The moral of the story is service and humility to others is the greatest deed of all and is the key to our joy. To be truly happy, we need to think greater than ourselves and think of the better good of others and the society. Bringing joy to others ignites a flame within us that cannot be easily quenched. A flame that spreads from person to person. So our answers to the two ancient Egyptian questions should be “yes”. Strive to bring happiness to others and understand ourselves enough to find our own true happiness and be content with it.

Sources
De Wachter, D. (2018). Het idee dat het leven vooral leuk moet zijn is dé ziekte van onze tijd. Geraadpleegd op 17 juni 2020, van https://www.brainwash.nl/bijdrage/het-idee-dat-het-leven-vooral-leuk-moet-zijn-is-de-ziekte-van-deze-tijd

Diffen. (n.d.). Happiness vs Joy. Retrieved 27 June 2020, from https://www.diffen.com/difference/Happiness_vs_Joy

Published by Victor Ogunmodede

Founder of Ekabo.org

2 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Happiness

  1. A wonderful and interesting piece. I quite agree with you, Victor. It is by being a source of hapiness to others that we can also find true happiness. Unfortunately, due to our self-centerdness, the pursuit of happiness will continue to be a mirage to many. May God help us all.

    Liked by 1 person

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