John Stuart Mill once wrote, "Happiness can only be glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, not stared at directly." Well, most of us did the exact opposite. We didn't just stare at happiness. We stalked it.
If happiness were a woman, it would take out a restraining order against all of humanity. It would need therapy. We slid it under a microscope. We made hundreds of books, listicles, and podcasts about it.
We wrote songs about it.
We branded it.
We created a happy meal. We told generations of children that chicken nuggets, carbonated sugar, and a little toy were all it took.
We built fake happiness on a foundation of cruelty. Entire industries are devoted to happiness, and all they do is exploit us.
Did we really think that was going to work?
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You made good grades. You went to college. You got a job. You dated. You got married. You bought a house. You got promoted. You went on exciting vacations. You got a pet. You had a kid or two. You raised them to do all of that same exact shit all over again. You retired. You spent a few years looking young for your age, and then you died in your sleep.
Except that's not true at all.
Life didn't really work out like that for a lot of us. We couldn't achieve all of these things, or we never really wanted them in the first place. It didn't matter. Everything from movies to commercials and billboards shoved these desires down our throats anyway.
They made us feel guilty for failing to obtain these life goals.
We didn't even come up with them.
They were presented to us.
That was the point.
We were supposed to chase these desires. Forever. We were never supposed to obtain any lasting sense of meaning or fulfillment.
That's not profitable.
We were supposed to work harder and buy more stuff. Then we were supposed to get stressed out by all the stuff. Then we were supposed to buy a 4,000 square foot house and buy even more. Then we were supposed to go on a minimalism binge and throw it all away. Then we were supposed to fill it up again. It had nothing to do with happiness, either. That was simply the carrot, a promise made up by a bunch of ad executives in Manhattan.
Now that's profitable.
That ensures everyone keeps producing, consuming, and disposing for their entire lives. The billionaires love it.
They do the same thing.
Now look around. We've got a ton of people walking around pretending to be happy on the outside, miserable on the inside.
We have a dying planet.
We go around chirping slogans about mindfulness. (When I say we, I mean a lot of people, enough to put pressure on the rest of us.)
You can buy Oprah's gratitude jar. You can read about stoicism on the internet. You can listen to Joel Osteen. They'll pump you full of dopamine and send you back out into a cruel dystopian hellscape where you work a hundred hours for a place to live, and it's smaller than Kylie Jenner's shoe closet. Don't talk about any of that, though. It makes you sound negative.
Sociologists have a term for all this bullshit:
They're called happiness scripts.
It's exactly what it sounds like. It's a story you act out. You do the things that our capitalistic society approves of, and you get your happiness card punched. Of course, it's a lie. There's no happiness waiting for you.
You get a temporary dopamine boost.
The happiness script is undergoing a major rebrand right now. The old one doesn't work anymore. Capitalism is falling apart, even if nobody wants to admit it. Nobody can afford a house. Nobody can afford kids. Nobody wants to work, because there's no point anymore. Your boss can't wait to replace you with a robot. Nobody has any idea what happiness looks like now.
Maybe it's having an AI girlfriend. Maybe it's twerking on TikTok. Maybe it's paying $1600 for concert tickets.
Here's the sad part: We've made it impossible to be happy in this world without money, because you can't live without it. Over here in America, you even have to pay for the water you drink.
Deep down, most of us want the time and space to figure out what would actually make us content and fulfilled. We want a sense of purpose.
We want to slow down.
That's not new.
There's endless books and articles out there all telling us to ditch consumerism and go live on a ranch somewhere. That's a lie, too. These podcast bros get it, even as they dispense their recipes for a quiet life in the woods.
We're not allowed to do that.
If we did that, the precious economy would collapse. The real answer is what's happening now: a massive number of strikes, a massive number of people demanding a better life for themselves and each other.
Maybe we should take a break from the word happiness. Lately, our obsession seems to be doing more harm than good.
I think a lot of people out there need to stop worrying about feeling happy. They need to learn how to feel all of the other emotions.
Do you know what I like doing lately?
I like feeling sad.
I like sitting in the darkness and breathing my emotions. When I'm done, I feel better about pretty much everything.
Try it sometime.