Happiness is a notoriously difficult thing to achieve. One day, we suddenly find ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings, in a life that we built for ourselves in pursuit of what we perceived happiness to be – only to find out that we had been toiling away at boxing ourselves in rather than opening ourselves up and out toward the world.
Where We Are
Does it not strike us as odd that the wealthiest countries in the world have the highest rates of dissatisfaction with one’s life and nearly systemic depression? One would assume that an individual who can afford to provide for themselves and their family with all the vital necessities that humans need to survive would be doing much better off than their counterparts in other, less-developed and less-privileged nations.
How can it be that this discrepancy is so prevalent among so many ‘first-world’ nations? If this is the pinnacle of civilization, then it’s reasonable to assume that we’ve made some mistakes somewhere along the way.
In our hyper-consumeristic societies, it has become the norm to consume our problems away. Feeling sad? Just swallow this happy pill and all will be better. And although medically-prescribed medications can do wonders for those suffering from an imbalance of neurochemicals in their brain, the fundamental truth of the matter is that most people in today’s societies are chronically unfulfilled.
Despite the rising amount of “contentment” around the globe as illustrated by the relatively even distribution of the “happiness index” in the above chart, there is a significant lack of fulfillment.
Although our careers have given us the ability to create incredible things with fellow co-workers, the quest for “success” that has blinded so many has strung us along paths we were never meant to walk. The several decades will prove increasingly challenging toward the status of the societal psyche should the predictions of automation prove to be true. With more of our menial and repetitive work taken care of by automated scripts and machines, where is that going to put those that have relied on companies for their sole purpose in life?
One may argue that this view is far too grim and unfair to the myriad of cultural frameworks that exist in the West for some to find their calling, but it must be acknowledged that a large majority of what constitutes “education” within Western culture is the pursuit of acquiring highly specialized knowledge so that they may apply it within a corporate setting. When we compare this current worldview with what cultures throughout the millennia have believed, it becomes at once apparent just how distorted our lives can get.
Happiness does not dwell in the continued accumulation of material things, nor does it dwell within social status, rank, or power. True fulfillment lies within virtuous acts, and those that lead us further down the path of achieving our dreams. Unfortunately, that takes a level of honesty and self-introspection that may cause most to become severely unhinged from the path upon which they have so firmly planted themselves upon.
Money may bring comfort, but it will never bring fulfillment. The only way for us to achieve that which will fulfill us is to blaze our own trails and look within for guidance. It’s merely a testament to the status of our current Western culture that even bringing up such sentiment within a corporate environment will see one promptly laughed out of the room.
When we look at the current structure of our lives, we see a roadmap painted by way of working unreasonable hours through the healthiest years of our lives, saving any time for leisure or that which truly inspires us to the last years of our lives – or worse, filling our time with meaningless distractions.
A Better Way Forward
Enter, ikigai – a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being”. While Japan itself is a nation that heavily falls pray to the negative mental states that can plague people that are wearing themselves to the bone for grueling hours on end, the concept of ikigai shines through with those that manage to weave it into the fabric of their being. As quite literally the thing you wake up for, ikigai envelopes ones being in ways that an external structure cannot.
If we take the time and are honest with ourselves with what we want, we can begin to cater our behavior along the path that will lead us to fulfillment. Until then, we are no better off spinning in our hamster wheels for eternity.