“Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: never. Nothing will ever return to the “broken” sense of normalcy that prevailed prior to the crises because the coronavirus pandemic marks a fundamental inflection point in our global trajectory. Some analysts call it a major bifurcation, others refer to a deep crisis of “biblical” proportions, but the essence remains the same: the world as we knew it in the early months of 2020, is no more, dissolved in the context of the pandemic” – Klaus Schwab, Covid 19: The Great Reset, 2020.
Let me just add, the above excerpt is from the first part of the introduction from the book by Klaus Schwab, so you can imagine how one would feel reading this. Irrespective of whether the author, used this for dramatic effect, one cannot argue how utterly chilling of a statement this is. Not to mention, I only recently finished Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind”, 2014 – a book that I would encourage everybody to read who has an inquisitive mind into our very nature, where we’ve been, how we got here and quite disturbingly, where we could be or are heading to. So, you can imagine the almost dystopian doom and gloom mindset I had, but this got me thinking…
Is it any wonder that our global society in 2021, is grappling probably the worst mental health crises ever in our history? Despite the ever-increasing technological capabilities, we have achieved great feats in scientific development, especially in the 20th century that saw a stratospheric trajectory of advancement, so then why does this not positively correlate with “happiness”? … what even is this happiness, that our society is so addicted to, and where does it come from?
To start, happiness is an illusory over-simplistic idea, that cannot be explained with any real definition; a term that means something different to everybody, but for argument’s sake, let’s call this “subjective well-being”.
Over 10,000 years ago, the brain of a hunter gatherer would have distributed a certain amount of chemical serotonin or dopamine after killing an animal to eat (survive) , like someone today winning a large sum of money on the lottery. Neither the hunter gatherer nor the lottery winner would actually feel any ‘happier’ in the long term – you would assume that the lottery winner would have elevated levels of happiness permanently, but since ‘happiness’ is all but a temporary chemical reaction in our brains, the lottery winner would gradually adjust and their new found wealth would all but become normalised.
They then would at their core continue to be the same person as before, their expectations would elevate, but their happiness or unhappiness chemical levels certainly wouldn’t.
As the famous saying goes “money doesn’t buy happiness”, to which some reply “but it can make being miserable a lot easier!” No doubt, because we live in an economic system driven by money, but I would like you to ask yourself, if given a binary choice, would you choose to be rich and miserable or poor and happy?
A difficult question, but it really shouldn’t be. To all of the people who chose rich and miserable, then you are missing the point, or perhaps you are already think you are ‘miserable’, in which case you think, “well at least I can be rich in my misery”. In this case, you’ve either given up on happiness or rather the pursuit of wealth is so strong that you are ‘happy’ to forgo happiness for the endless riches – or in most of our cases, the endless pursuit of it.
Is it any wonder why we have a mental health crisis?
As a society we have become so fixated on material wealth, comparing ourselves to the other alter-ego created characters on social media, their lavish lifestyles, nice holidays and fast cars. We are stuck in a cycle of chasing a temporary chemical brain reaction – this endless pursuit is what makes us feel miserable and dissatisfied. We live in constant fear that soon we may lose what we have attained or that we may never achieve. We are addicted to chasing the inner feelings we want and we constantly identify ourselves with our feelings. If we could learn to de-practice ourselves from this endless pursuit of a temporary chemical brain dump of dopamine, then we could separate our external pursuits with our true self and have acceptance of all that appears ‘bad’ or ‘good’, and the realisation that we will most likely have equal amounts of both; they will come and go, and they will pass. Life will have hard moments, sad ones, we will feel happy, joyful, it will go and come back again – none of it really matters, just acceptance for what is.
Going back to my initial quote from Klaus Schwab; as a society, we are becoming ever more (now at an even faster rate) disconnected. We are seeking a return to normality, but we are on the precipice of a whole new global system that due to Covid will accelerate a major shift in how we live, work and interact with people, a disruptive change that will be difficult for many – the consequence of this disconnection will be an advancement of mental health problems and personal suffering; a furthering of the endless pursuit of happiness, through ways that don’t make you happy.
Now is the time more than ever to realise a new way of living in our own heads, or rather not to. We must seek new ways to accept how unnatural our surroundings are to our own instinctive biology and realise why we feel like this and how our system has convinced us to be ‘unhappy’. How once we let go of this pursuit of ‘happiness’ can we really find something closer to inner peace.
My advice: turn off your television, do not watch the news, put down your phone, go outside, exercise, read some books, learn a new language, a new skill, connect with your family and friends again, be sociable, share ideas, laugh, cry (it doesn’t matter) – be human, be you. There is only one of you, learn to live in the present moment with your loved ones and most importantly, stop trying to be happy (because you wont be).