What is happiness? Many people including famous philosophers like Aristotle, Buddha and Mencius have tried to describe happiness. Although most of their definitions differ, they all seem to explain it to be a state of mind or an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy and satisfaction. In his book, Weiner combines the insights of various classical thinkers on happiness. He is a keen observer, who has visited many parts of the world to study happiness.
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America despite being one of the most developed countries in the world with a majority of its citizens living above the middle income level falls 23rd on the happiness index ranking. This essay, for that reason, will try to find out some main causes and effects of unhappiness in America and the reason why happiness is so much elusive.
If one asks an average American the reasons for them being unhappy, he/she will say that it is the ‘struggle for success.’ What most Americans fear when struggling for success is not failure to get their next meal or pay their bills, but failure in outshining their comrades, friends or neighbors. Success becomes a competition which eventually leads to isolation and paranoia. Weiner terms this competition as Darwinian competition. It has created a country where people take pleasure on the failure of other people (Weiner, p. 57).
According to Juliet Schor, most Americans are unhappy because they associate materials things with happiness (Schor, p. 115). It is true material possessions bring enjoyment and satisfaction, but when analyzed as a whole, the picture gets more murky with increased concern for public safety, health complications, failing education system, decline in community participation among other negatives. Materialism does not only make people unhappy, but it also breeds some form of discontent where people become dissatisfied with what they have (Schor, p. 116). Weiner terms this as the ‘More Factor’ or the hunger for more.
Another cause of unhappiness among Americans is abundance which leads to lack of rest as they work and commute for long hours (Weiner, p. 89). The inability to make cogent and right choices has also caused many Americans their unhappiness. This inability arises due to the many choices available for them making them have inflated expectations (Weiner, p. 167). Weiner states “Some people do not want to be happy, and that is okay. They want meaningful lives, and those are not always the same as happy lives” (Weiner, p. 257).
Medical evidence has proved that people living with a lot of stress, or who are always unhappy have their lifespan significantly reduced. When a person has some form of stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Prolonged release of this hormone damages the brain tissues and many other vital organs of the body.
Steptoe in his article recognizes research that links unhappy states of mind with increased rates of coronary heart diseases, dementia, strokes and death (Steptoe et al., p. 112). Various studies have also shown that increased rate of divorce in the US is attributable to lack of happiness or satisfaction within the family. Unhappiness has also increased the level of drug abuse among the middle age people who resort to drugs whenever they are unhappy or stressed (Steptoe et al., p. 129).
The main reason why happiness is elusive is because of the faulty principle of happiness that society, parents and schools tells people to follow. This principle teaches that if one works hard now, more success will come his/her way, and then finally he/she will be happy. This principle has flaws because of two reasons: First, people’s brains simply switch the goalpost of success every time they become victorious, so that happiness will forever become elusive if it is on the other side of the success. Secondly, because peoples’ brains work in the opposite order; the positivity of the brains ultimately determines the levels of peoples’ success and happiness.
Happiness being a state of mind can neither be achieved by materialism nor be achieved by attaining that success that one always wants. Americans, therefore, need to find other ways of satisfying and eventually making them happy. This is important for both their economic and social growth.
- Schor, Juliet. The overworked American: the unexpected decline of leisure. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1993. Print.
- Steptoe, Andrew, et al. Stress and adiposity: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Obesity, 19, (2010): 771–778. Print.
- Weiner, Eric. The geography of bliss. New York, NY: Hachette (Twelve Books), 2007. Print.
- Xander, Dorothy and Marcia, Muth. The bedford guide for college writers. 9th Edition. New York, NY: Bedford/St.Martins, 2011. Print.