The Pursuit Of Happiness

in #life5 years ago

Hi everyone,

This post will be very different from what I usually post, which is mostly related to finance.
I had a striking revelation yesterday after watching the movie The Pursuit of Happyness (again). The scene that stuck by me the most in the movie was the one where Will Smith wondered what exactly Thomas Jefferson meant in the Declaration of Independence when he stated “the pursuit of happiness” as a basic right. Many Americans believe this equates to the pursuit of wealth and security. But if that is the case, why did he add the “pursuit” part in it? Maybe life is about the pursuit and not actually the achievement of happiness. This made me wonder about what we, in modern society, perceive as happiness and what the real definition could possibly be and if it’s actually possible to achieve happiness in life.

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Most people in todays society value the principle of hard work. You should work hard to become successful and if you could work on something you’re passionate about, that is the ideal life. Hard work + ambition = lots of money + status = happiness. This formula is nothing new to most and it has been pretty much branded in people’s brains all their life.

The question what happiness exactly means, has been studied for centuries now. Aristotle, an ancient philosopher (330 BC) was a pioneer in human happiness and defined it as the “supreme good”. According to him, it is in fact possible to be happy. Everybody wants to be happy and a happy life is a goal in itself. Even centuries later we’re still in the pursuit of happiness and weighing the possibilities. However, Aristotle mentioned that work was not the way to happiness and is merely a distraction. Now that is very different from our society today.
Some philosophers believe that humans in this day and age believe happiness can be achieved through their career and love. The road to love however, is bumpy and uncertain and most of the times out of our control. Our professional life is a much safer bet since we ourselves can control how hard we work and what we devote our time to. Why else would we spend most of our days and life dedicated to something if we didn’t know for a fact that would bring us happiness in life?

The promise of happiness through career is often an empty one. And the way we approach life can often cause unhappiness.
From the day we are born, we’re influenced and molded by our society’s ideals of a good life. This consists of various ideologies that form the foundation of our way of thinking. The two most important forces today are capitalism and the construction of identity or self shaping. The combination of these two causes a person to see his career as a possible source of happiness while at the same time, ensuring that it’s not. This philosophy likens to that of a toxic relationship, when two entities bring out the worst in each other.
The need for humans to construct their identity, and capitalism creating the notion that work is the most important environment for us to evolve, makes this a recipe for disaster. Capitalism exploits this trait by making use of every bit of productivity a person has left and conversely putting the blame on the individual in case of failure to perform. People often blame themselves when they fail to succeed in their career instead of the corporate structure. We indirectly link an individual to his financial status and make it the most important part of his identity. It influences how people treat and approach someone because that individual’s title/status is who he is to us. That is also why people often look down on the homeless, sometimes even referring to them as bums, and treat the CEO of the company with the utmost respect.

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But why do we humans have the need to form an identity that is different from others? Aristotle believed that as a baby we come into this world as a “blank slate” or tabula rasa. Our environment and experiences will shape who we are as people. That process was very easy centuries ago. People believed that God shaped us to his image and the universe revolved around the human being, making it the most important species. Your purpose was already determined: being a servant of God. However, the human species has been knocked off its pedestal since then. Science debunked a lot of the claims of religion and humans aren’t Godly creatures with a predetermined purpose. This has left humans with the responsibility of shaping their own identity.

As humans, we’re social beings. We crave social interaction and being amongst others. We also have the need to be unique, creative and authentic. The feeling that we can make our own choices and design our own life on this earth is very important to us. We do this mostly in our professional life because that’s where we spent most of our time and development. It’s easier to trace your progress in your professional life than it is in your personal life and personal relationships. We want to differentiate ourselves from others and be recognizable instead of blending in with the rest. We want to be somebody. We think that the only way to do that is to be successful in our career. Nothing is more detrimental to your self worth than failing at that. Often leading ourselves to burn out and being unable to fully function and meet the necessary requirements of our work. We fail, and are left feeling responsible, guilty, incompetent and most of all sad. When that failure occurs, we don’t just fail as an employee or colleague but to ourselves, we fail as a person. We take a moment to recover, take a look at what we believe we’ve done wrong, convince ourselves that the right way is just to work harder and be more motivated. And so the cycle continues, leading us to a never-ending loop of exhaustion. Be wary of this mindset, as it could cost you your happiness.

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