Climate Change can only be addressed if we radically redefine Happiness

It’s not what we all thought it was.

Feeling Numb 

It is nothing less than a tragic failure that as a species, after so much struggle, so much achievement, so much social evolution and revolution, pain and joy, tears and laughter, so many highs and lows over thousands of years of history, we find ourselves in 2020 feeling numb. Feeling colourless, odourless, powerless as we watch koalas burn as if they’re not real, as if they were digital Pokemon animations thrown up by a bored AI. We are not sure what to believe anymore. We have lost our trust in reality, in actual facts, as we have gradually let ourselves become transparent, ghost-like. We have began wondering whether we are actually alive, whether we trully exist or have any impact whatsoever in a world driven by apps, algorithms and fascists racing each other to the bottom of the IQ scale. More than at any other point in our history as an upright-walking mammal, we are really questioning who we are, not out of scientific curiosity anymore, no, we’re not looking at the stars anymore, but looking at the record we have left behind, before turning our look towards the ground in despair. We are wondering whether surely, in a world of fake news, we quite possibly might have become fake ourselves, living in a fake world. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. I know there are others, perhaps a silent majority that thinks this is too existential, too scary, too depressing to even begin to explore or voice out publicly. But the more invisible we become, the more our voices get buried in the digital static, the louder our feeling of existential isolation will become.

But most of all, more of us than ever are questioning whether THIS is all there is. We are feeling empty but we don’t know why, despite leading lives that on the surface appear to be more rich and colourful, more busy, more complex and sophisticated than they have ever been. And while we try to distract ourselves with all these “things” around us in our desire to feel rich and meaningful, we always come back to the same question that is eating us alive: what is happiness and how can we achieve it? 

Dear Mother

Photo by John Cameronon Unsplash

It is no wonder we are asking the big question, given that we have forgotten who we are, what we are, and where we came from: the wilderness that we are so hellbent on destroying, like a parasite determined to kill the host that has nurtured it. And while our planet’s biomes and weather systems are entering a stage of rapid and irreversible damage, we are too busy, too mentally fucked up to care, as we spend our evenings licking the wounds that our own civilisation inflicts on us during the day. Every day. We were supposed to be the brave ones, the ones who had “their shit together” as the smartest species. We were supposed to be the older sibling to our younger siblings, the trillions of other souls in this planet who look to us for leadership. We were supposed to be the child that took care of its elderly mother as she gracefully aged, but ended up getting sick themselves. The child ended up shooting heroin and getting high on fossil fuel, Netflix and H&M sales while the mother is in the room next door neglected on a dirty bed, buried in the dark under a mountain of empty McDonald’s plastic wrappers, covered in cigarette burns and choking her guts out begging for a glass of water — yet still willing to forgive the monster that she gave birth to, 3.5 billion years ago. 

We are sicker than our sick planet, and this is the tragedy of the story called “Earth”

Happiness, Redefined

Photo by Francois Hoangon Unsplash

All of us have been unsuspecting victims of our own evolution and devolution away from real meaning and purpose. It was a dirty game that time played on us, which started hundreds of generations ago, almost at the beginning of organised human societies. As our civilisations grew in size and sophistication, and their development accelerated, we became accustomed to expecting the next technological development. We have all witnessed civilisation evolve within our own lifetimes, becoming transformed in front of our eyes, with each new decade bringing new innovations, new “comforts”. As we became more and more conscious of the importance of time in shaping our civilisation, pragmatic definitions of happiness were replaced with abstract archetypes of expectation and ambition, as we eagerly awaited for the next “improvement”. 

The notion of Happiness began to merge with Progress, whether technological or other. Despite often being told otherwise, the ideals that were forged, embedded in us about happiness were that it is not a state of mind, but a progression. In other words, happiness has nothing to do with how you feel right now, but with whether you feel better now in comparison to yesterday, or to another person.

This new definition brought about a fundamental shift in how we perceived our own purpose and sense of satisfaction with our life. We began to measure happiness not in absolute terms, not as the moment right here right now, but using “measuring sticks”

As we became overtaken by expectation, Happiness began to reside more in our heads rather than in real life. The new focus was on desperately and obsessively trying to “measure” it, rather than simply experiencing it

This undoubtedely brought about almost a disdain of the past, which we recorded in history books as a list of failings of a lesser humanity belonging to a previous “version” of the species, only sporadically punctuated by rare but momentous technological discoveries and developments which occasionally “catapulted’ us into the future. This is how, to this day, we learn and process our human history. As a history of “coming out of the darkness” and into the brightly lit, “improved” future.

What we do not realise however is that, in this new version of civilisation, as the car speeds up, places and people become a blur. Meaningful reality and experience become secondary, as our eyes become affixed to the speedometer. Speed itself becomes our only source of “happiness”. Happiness basically becomes a number, a quantity rather than a quality.

Capitalism vs. Happiness

Photo by Ishan @seefromtheskyon Unsplash

And voila! We found the perfect way to measure Happiness: Capitalism. It helped us measure happiness in number of units sold, number of hours worked, number of people exploited, number of trees felled. We were finally able to know just how happy we were by how big our house was, how many cars we had, how much we spent on shopping sprees. We now had clearer goals and aspirations: the things we wanted to buy, the houses we wanted to live in, the salary we were aiming for. It became simpler and concrete. 

Whereas happiness used to mean simply feeling alive, whether suffering or enjoying, it now assumed a purely hedonistic definition: a mechanical and transactional type of manufactured personal enjoyment with no ethical boundaries, whatever the cost to the planet or to other social groups. Capitalism killed happiness, and then moved on to kill ethics altogether. 

Fill this Void

The truly sad thing is that while Capitalism killed a big part of our humanity, of our ability to feel genuinely happy, at the same time it injected us with “happy drugs” that made us numb to the underlying pain: salaries, “things”, entertainment, apps, more “things”. No wonder many of us feel like we are on some kind of life support that we want to unhook ourselves from, but we don’t know how. 

In fact, we are all hooked onto a machine. Whereas this machine used to be Earth, it now is the CO2 Machine. Whereas the former was a magical machine regenerating its resources, the latter is only a temporary one: destroying, and emitting. Until it destroys itself.

to be continued…

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