Updated: Jan 7
While it feels like getting to true happiness is not possible for most at this point in the human experience, it’s not only possible, it’s a lot easier than people think.
Humanity has more resources and technology available than at any point in our known history. Most would assume that means people are happier overall. Look around you, better yet, look inside of you. Do most people seem happy? Are you happy? For all the resources we’ve accumulated and all the technology we’ve invented and discovered, one would think humanity would be significantly happier than it was a century ago. The latest Gallup poll shows that the happiness of Americans is at the lowest it’s been in the 71 years Gallup has been recording (and this was measured just before COVID-19 started).
While this may be surprising a as a conceptual matter, practically speaking, I don’t think anyone is shocked to hear that people aren’t happy at this time in history. Based on international geopolitical situations alone like pandemics, war, inflation, and a rapidly weakening global economy, it’s enough to turn even the most optimistic among us into pessimists. Add in the isolation and change to our routines and energy caused by COVID-19 and I’d imagine a poll today would be even lower than the one taken in January 2020.
Either way, the fact remains that Americans were at their unhappiest in 71 years before the pandemic, the isolation, the Great Resignation, the global supply chain crisis, and the Ukraine war started. How do you rectify this inability to be happy with our apparent success as a species? Ultimately it warrants an exploration into why happiness is so low and what if anything can be done to increase it. Spoiler alert, not only are there steps we can take to guarantee happiness now, the three biggest ones don’t take that much work.
“I fear the day when technology overlaps our humanity.” ~ Albert Einstein
As beings our normal state is contentment. Think about how plentiful the Earth is when managed properly. Managed properly, it’s a self-sustaining source of material abundance. If the Earth had proper managers, there would never be a need to worry about bread in your stomach or a roof over your head. The problem is the Earth is managed by politicians whose very political existence is dependent on succumbing to the will of the new owners, the 2% of humanity that holds 98% of its wealth.
There are modern and ancient fields of study on what causes suffering. They show the hard part is that most of these changes are invisible to the human eye. When accounting for factors that interfere with our natural state of contentment, one of the most pertinent factors is our body’s chemical composition. Science tells us that our experience of reality is little more than a mixture of the right chemicals.
In the seeing is believing world we live in, drugs, alcohol, sex, and gambling are examples where science has clearly proven a microscopic change in the brain’s chemical composition affects what we experience in the material world. Similar studies have shown the same types of chemical changes occur when we engage with social media. Additionally, executives of the most prominent social media companies have resigned, citing these practices as the reason why.
Dopamine provides a feeling of intense pleasure when the brain anticipates our desires coming true. Oxytocin makes us feel the emotion we know as love. Serotonin gives us a specific high based on the satisfaction of completing goals. The list goes on. What social media companies have done is studied the gambling industry to figure out how to keep humans addicted to their services by using our natural biology against us. To take back our ability to be happy, we first need to cut off this unnatural interference with our natural path to ecstatic living.
“The most important factor in survival is neither intelligence nor strength but adaptability.” ~ Charles Darwin
Survival is the highest prioritized aspect of the human experience. It makes sense. If you’re dead there is no human experience. This was a tough task for our ancestors. They came up in a time where daily life included scavenging for food while avoiding dangerous predators. It’s no wonder humanity is a species of tough survivors.
Where humanity has failed, however, is in its ability to evolve past the survival phase. With a global economy valued at $94 trillion, survival is literally a thing of the past. I define survival as a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly. I acknowledge that an unacceptably high number of people are homeless and even more are starving. What I will never acknowledge is that this is necessary. Neither would you if you thought about the $1 trillion annual food waste problem. If solved we would easily feed the entire world twice over.
Housing, food, and clothing are all we need to ensure the survival of humanity. When the twenty-six wealthiest individuals are proven to possess the same amount of money as the next 50% of the population, we must figure out what it takes to give the next 50% and lower a chance. The problem is survival keeps adapting from a roof and bread to keeping up with the wealthiest 2% among us. So long as we follow the impetus to chase the unattainable lifestyles of the 2%, we are raising the standard of survival to something that’s unattainable, unnecessary, and sure to cause needless suffering.
Once we move past our lowest energy center, we leave the survival phase. We are then able to direct our attention and evolution to our desires rather than that which is necessary to survive. Doing what we want to instead of what we need to. That’s the good news. The hard part is figuring out what our purpose is once we move past the human survival phase.
“There is no path to happiness, happiness is the path.” ~ The Buddha
Once you leave humanity’s survival phase, being happy is quite easy. The problem is leaving the survival phase once you’ve achieved it. If we set the minimum bar for happiness at doing what you desire instead of what you must to pay the bills, we are left with a significant problem. Most people tie making a living to fulfilling their life’s purpose when they are young and the mindset continues well into adulthood. When people choose a major and go to college, they are almost always doing so with an eye towards the rest of their lives.
As people evolve in their careers and become experts in a field, they become more entrenched in a single way of earning a livelihood. What was originally supposed to be a liberating and independent experience at finally being able to provide for yourself, to prove you’re better at being an adult than your parents, becomes stressful as people realize the real world has no time for their learning or growth unless it earns their employer more money.
From the time we’re children, we are trained to constantly get past this painful process of finding our true place in the world by focusing on the end result. You quickly learn you must put your head down and grind. It’s the only way you’ll have your dreamlife of a car, a house, and all the other things you were taught to desire. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of people are living on the hope that if they continue to slug their way through the brutal process of life, one day the results they accumulate will justify the work they’ve spent the majority of their time completing.
Pro tip, it won’t be satisfying now and it won’t be satisfying when you retire. The key to happiness is to love the process and forsake the result. If you love the process now, you’ll not only be better at creating the results you want, you’ll enjoy the process so much you won’t care when those results arrive. Think about how long it takes some great athletes to win a championship. Once they win it, they don’t care about how long it took. They are grateful that they stuck it out through the pain and rain to get to the feeling of elation they are now experiencing.
There are easily achievable steps available to eliminate each of the obstacles preventing humans from being happy.
It may be difficult to control the urge to check your email or social media feeds every couple of minutes, but think of what you could be doing with all of the time you spend on your social media feeds. Sure curating a post that gets you a like will give you a dopamine hit that temporarily boosts your confidence. But the 15 minutes it took you to perfect that post could have been spent using simple techniques that rewire your brain to produce dopamine more frequently and causing you to feel that reward chemical more often.
To move out of the survival phase and force your brain to produce chemicals that assist you in controlling your world, stop thinking about what you need once you have the essentials. Have a car, a house, and food in the cupboards / fridge? Good! Now focus on what your true passion is. If you don’t know what that is, focus on finding out.
It's possible to rewire your brain to embrace any process. Positive affirmations and mantras have become trendy but they are rarely used effectively. The true purpose of chanting affirmations and mantras is not to feel good as you say them, but to say them enough and with enough passion that you rewire your brain into undoing the programming it received during your first seven years on this Earth.
By utilizing these key techniques you’re well on your way to creating exactly whatever it is you want to create. Is it hard to consistently maintain these techniques in the beginning? It can be difficult to find fifteen minutes a day uninterrupted by your peers or your phone. Once you get used to carving out that time, however, it not only becomes easy, it becomes a pathway to the life of your dreams.