empathy

We’re making progress, but are we happier?

Artwork by Igor Skaletzky

Artwork by Igor Skaletzky

We live in an era when wars are more isolated and less frequent, when people do not die from a mere fever anymore and when people living thousands of miles away can see each other and have a conversation in real time.

However, we still find ourselves far from being happy.

There are so many ways to connect and yet we feel disconnected, sometimes alone and more and more frequently afraid and sad. Anxiety and depression occur more and more often and affect more and more people, to the extent that they’ve become “the” problems of people living in this age.

We seem to be in a continuous search for happiness but also seem to miss it at every step.

Somehow we’ve got the idea that stuff will bring us happiness so we started to buy more and more and indeed it works, but not always and when it does, it does only for a limited amount of time. So, we decided (or we are about to decide) that this is not happiness, but rather joy or enthusiasm.

But still there is this idea in our minds that maybe we just haven’t acquired enough or that maybe we acquired the wrong product. Perhaps if we bought a trip instead of a bag, or the other way around, we would have been happier. As conscious as we might be about the material possessions not bringing happiness, we still find it hard to completely rid ourselves from that idea.

And yet when we do take a trip and we get to that amazing place we always wanted to see and have seen in so many photos before leaving just to prepare for the moment, we take some pictures, upload them on all the social media accounts we have and then we find ourselves wondering if that was it. Somehow, we expected more; a deeper sense of happiness, maybe a sense of fulfillment and definitely something that would have lasted longer.

We also set models for our happiness looking at the people that seem to live the best lives. But those stars with millions of followers, likes and dollars find themselves depressed, having anxiety and panic attacks sometimes.

Think about this for a second, millions of people want to have that person’s body, face, mind, talent, money, whatever and yet that person faces just about the same problems like us all. It is clear that there is something that all of us are doing wrong.

Anxiety and depression are very effective it seems, managing to affect a very broad range of people, from the most wealthy to those that have almost nothing, from the most attractive, the most famous, to the virtually unknown.

What this must mean then is that the cure for them and the way to happiness is not through fame or money. But we have such a hard time believing this, or at least I know I do, because I am so used of thinking that I’ll truly be happy when I reach a certain goal or when I will own a certain something. Surely I will be much happier when my book will be a best seller than I am now.

However the capacity to feel happiness comes from within and must be trained. I might as well get to become a bestseller author and feel miserable. The idea is not that we should not believe in attaining goals or in the fact that reaching a certain point in our lives will bring us more reasons for happiness, but rather that we need to be happy until then too and to enjoy that process.

So where is the truth then? What gives us happiness? There are many theories but most of them seem to tell us that happiness comes from what we do and not what we have and also that it is created by what we believe.

The material possessions are thus a side effect of doing something we love because when doing something we love we do it well. Maybe this means that all of us are looking at the stars on Instagram and Facebook from a wrong perspective. Maybe we should not appreciate them for what they have or how they look but for what they do with love, for what they do well and follow that example rather than buying the same car/bag/lipstick as the one they have.

It has also been claimed that this is the answer for the existential dread as well. Doing something with passion might just as well be the answer to the question about the meaning of our lives, the mission we all have and the cure for the fear of dying. Artists have claimed for long that they have felt a profound need to create. They like to create, they are alive when they are doing it but they also have a need, they use it to cure a fear, to ease a pain or to transcend a state. But doing something with love is not something exclusive to artists, they are merely the best examples of this as they are the most transparent in expressing it and we find it easier to empathies with them.

Maybe there is also happiness in connection, something we seem to rather avoid. Only this week I’ve seen about four articles about how the millennials are afraid of relationships and looking around that seems to be just right. Even looking within that seems to ring true.

We are the people that tell 100,000 followers on twitter that we feel alone and have nobody to talk to. Why this pleasure of connection seems to be fading I don’t know but maybe, just maybe, in recovering it we might find yet another thing that we could love to do and yet another thing to be grateful for.

I truly wonder if in a few decades people will look at us and be baffled by how we have been tormented by anxiety and depression the way we look back and are puzzled by the fact that people used to die from simple colds and from fever, something we can treat so easily now.

I wonder if they will look back and be surprised of how we use our means of interaction to distance ourselves one from another, especially through hate speech and bullying, the way we look back how some artists used their art to promote Nazi propaganda.

I hope they will look at us from a better future where anxiety and depression have been eradicated, being grateful that they don’t have to go through them and wondering how could we not see how easy would have been for all of us to escape them if we’ve done that particular something that we are still not sure what it is.


Poet and writer, Alec is currently pursuing a degree in law and he is deeply passionate about human rights and humanity. He is also a full time art lover and dreamer that never says no to long conversations about life, love and humans. His latest novel is called A hospital four souls.