For a time, I was living under the impression that in the Nine Inch Nails’ album Broken there is a song where Trent Reznor sings: “Happiness is slavery”. Right until the point when I went to look for an accurate transcript of the lyrics when I found out it is actually “Happiness in slavery”. This otherwise insignificant mistake led me to think about that original statement and why it was so memorable for me.
People often chase happiness as the primary goal of their life. “I just want to be happy.” “I wish we could all be happier.” Like success, happiness seems to be something everyone wants. That would make one think that they do not have enough of it. Indeed, it would be fair to say that everyone could be happier.
Like success, happiness does not seem to stick for long to people. It feels good, and as with anything that feels good (or bad, for that matter), people get used to it. It is not that easy to hack the human brain. You cannot just plug in happiness. You can do what makes you happy, sure, but the happiness will get watered down with time. No matter how happy it makes you feel. Happiness is in high demand because it is elusive, scarce. Chasing happiness is, in this sense, just like chasing economical growth. You need the happiness to increase to feel like you are at the net zero.
Although, unlike society, human life has a shorter span, so the chase for happiness might not necessarily lead to self-destruction. Still, happiness can enslave people. This I wholeheartedly believe. Just think, when you are feeling down, have you never thought to yourself: “How could I become happy?” Everyone has their own quick way. Be it food, binging, gaming, shopping, alcohol, other drugs, sex, something else, or all of them combined. These are things, we rightfully align with some kind of addiction. Happiness is addictive, no doubt about it.
This obviously begs the question, should you strive for something that facilitates addiction? Should you really want happiness in your life?
I now invite you to think about it. After you gave it a proper thought, you might have this counterargument. There are other ways of attaining happiness in life. You can get happy doing something meaningful, not just by hacking one’s own biology. You can be happier if you share your troubles; you can be happy helping others. You can be happy by doing your work. You can be happy by doing your hobby or exercise. Or by some meditation or other thought exercise.
And you have a good point. But is the reason for doing these things the fact of becoming happy? Sure, for some, it probably is. As long as it does not hurt others, I would not strip them of the right. So maybe a better question: “Should happiness be the reason?” No. Of course not. Increased happiness is useless. It gets you through a bad day. It helps bear the burden of life in general, but other than that? Why would you need to strive for it? It is just a selfish goal.
At worst, it gives a false perception of how happy others should be. If I have a good job that makes me happy and I am left with time to exercise, how come others are miserable? Just get a better job, or find time after all the hustle to meditate. It is easy if I can do it. Another dimension in which we can split society.
On a final note, let me share some motivation that motivates me to write about this (source):
This well illustrates the issue. Everyone wants something. Want is the powerhouse of the capitalist machine. I wish we tried more of not wanting. Happiness must be a byproduct. That way, it makes the most sense. Chase some rational goal and let happiness come to you.
Don’t get enslaved.