Many important thinkers in history dwelled on solving the puzzle of life and humanity so far.
These philosophers have done their best to analyze, clarify, and give meaning despite a chaotic world.
The simplest questions humanity dealt with indisputably were
- Why are we here?
- What’s our purpose?
- Why do we exist?
- What’s the meaning of our existence?
Socrates claimed that virtue is knowledge, so knowledge was required to be just. From this point of view, Plato concluded that virtue can be obtained by knowing. The meaning of life was directly correlated with learning more in this context.
You can see it in kids. Why do they always come up with new questions? Because they want to know more instinctually out of their unrestrainable curiosity.
The situation might be frustrating when you’re a parent because they always come up with a new question.
If you dare to answer all of it, you may end up spending a whole day besides not knowing who the hell you are anymore.
Louie CK beautifully described this situation in his “One Night Stand” comedy show in 2005.
You can’t answer a kid’s question. They don’t accept any answer. A kid never goes oh thanks I get it. They fucking never say that, they just keep coming more questions why why why well you don’t even know who the fuck you are anymore at the end of the conversation. It’s an insane deconstruction. My daughter the other day, she’s like “Papa why can’t we go outside?”,
Louie: “Well cuz it’s raining”
Louie: “Well water’s coming out of the sky”
Louie: “Because it was in a cloud”
Louie: “Well clouds form when there’s vapor”
Louie: “I don’t know I don’t know that’s I don’t know any more things those are all the things I know”
Louie: “Because I’m stupid okay I’m a stupid”
Louie: “Well because I didn’t pay attention in school okay I went to school but I didn’t listen in class”
Louie: “Cuz I was high all the time I smoked too much pot”
Louie: “Cuz my parents gave me no guidance they didn’t give a shit”
Louie: “Cuz they fucked in a car and had me and they resented me for taking their youth”
Louie: “Because they had bad morals they just had no compass”
Louie: “Cuz they had shitty parents it just keeps going like that”
Louie: “Cuz fuck it we’re alone in the universe nobody gives a shit about us”
I’m gonna stop here to be polite to you for a second but this goes on for hours and hours and it gets so weird and abstract at the end it’s like…
Louie: “Well because some things are and some things are not”.
Louie: “Well, because things that are not can’t be”,
Louie: “Because then nothing wouldn’t be, you can’t have fucking nothing isn’t everything is”,
Louie: “Because if nothing wasn’t there be fucking all kinds of shit that we don’t like giant ants with top hats dancing around there’s no room for all that shit”
Louie: “Fuck you! Eat your french fries you little shit god damn.”
“Why” questions can go to the infinite because every answer gives a rise to a new “why” question.
So the philosophers wondered whether there is a universal phenomenon that doesn’t require a why.
They all agreed on every human did have one strange demand independently of a reason and that is…
We all live to be happy.
“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.” – Anne Frank
We first want to be happy above all other things.
In one way or another, everyone wants something in this life. We want a house, good marriage, chocolate, fit body.
Why? Because we want to be happy. Happiness is the common point of all our actions.
What makes us happy defines who we are, according to Plato.
So our criteria for happiness are also a sign of our character. What makes you happy tells a lot about your character.
“Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.” – Aldous Huxley
The analytical mind insistently and urgently look for certain ways to reach happiness. However, happiness is not like a math equation because it doesn’t have a formula, recipe, or well-defined program. We become happy because it finds us unexpectedly.
Strangely, we are still in pursuit of happiness although we know this fact.
There are two types of happiness, ideal and actual.
When somebody asks “Are you happy with your life?”, we make an overall analysis to answer that. The ideal happiness is more complicated and depends on various factors.
On the other hand, if someone asks “Are you happy now?”, we can answer right away because it’s mostly about our primitive needs.
We often confuse hedonism with happiness.
Hedonism is an ideology claiming that everything is accepted as long as we feel pleasure, so it puts pleasure on a pedestal just like humanism prioritizes humans.
“The soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure or by pain.” – Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 167 A.C.E.)
We chase success to become happy
Let’s take care of the meaning of success before it dives into our discussion.
Success is also a weird concept because it varies from one person to another.
It can be defined as “making someone else’s dream come true” in present-day conditions because most people live up to the expectations of others.
Their parents, friends, lovers, idols shape what success means to them. Hell, most people don’t even have a dream today.
Ask yourself sincerely, “what’s the roadmap of success that I draw for myself?”, and see to what degree does it belong to you? The answer is none for the majority.
Even a small scale of success achieved going in your own way will make you thousands of times happier compared to always following what you are told.
We are also such hypocrites when it comes to success. Everybody wants success, yet can’t keep themselves holding a grudge for successful people.
There are millions of conspiracy theories behind every successful individual. Why? Because it’s easy to land your own failure upon others rather than taking responsibility for your life.
It feels sweet, comfortable, and relaxing like a warm harbor hotel but that keeps you at the same level for your whole life. You find yourself wasting your life, smoking cigarettes in the corner of your balcony, doing the trash-talking all day long without getting nothing done.
It’s not a must to be a movie star, billionaire, or rockstar to achieve success. Regardless of who you’re, you can do your job greatly and that’s more than enough for fulfillment.
Who can accept this deal in today’s society where happiness equals making more money?
Capitalism must show happiness as a purchasable entity. Buy this house, car, chocolate, a ticket for vacation and you will be happy just like these people in our ads. There’s a strange fact that we ignore right at this point.
We also know that money doesn’t have to bring happiness as Jim Carrey said but we don’t want to believe it and feel obliged to try it out firsthand.
We waste years in poor conditioned dead-end jobs and highly demanding college educations.
Happiness is directly correlated with our personal values.
What makes me happy may not make any sense to you.
When I was just a little boy, it was our main duty to play soccer until exhaustion around our neighborhood.
Right after that, we would give a little break and drink cold sparkling water or have some ice cream.
Nothing can describe the incredible joy of that moment. We were all done physically and sweating blood like hell but we were so happy. Look at that, can you buy this experience?
Happiness often lies behind strange moments. It’s such a deceiving misconception of the 21st century that happiness can be purchased by money.
This is why we are unhappy.
We are in pursuit of money to purchase happiness. After spending decades of our lives, we finally get that it’s not about that at all.
Right at that moment, they again convince us by saying “Look, you are unhappy because you haven’t bought this yet. Earn some more and buy this and you will be happy”.
Our lives pass by in a vicious cycle because they put a carrot in front of us and we run after to catch it all the time.
Note: “Carrot and stick” is just an analogy to explain how people are motivated. Donkeys are not that stupid.
Deep inside we all know that it’s never going to cut it but we love the simplicity of it. It suits our book easily and definitely serves both ways.
“Hey, save some money and buy this amazing house. You are going to be so happy!”.
We love it because we have a definite goal right after we accept this deal. There are no question marks left, we wholeheartedly believe that we will be happy forever after earning X amounts of money.
Is this is what’s going to happen? No way, but it doesn’t matter. We love it even if that’s a fake scenario that offers comfort in our lives because we don’t deal with abstract concepts and ambiguity anymore.
Otherwise, shit is too complicated. No definition, quantification, certain methods, or even plans. Who’s going to live with such uncertainty?
This is the root of the problem.
People make wars, commit suicides, get married and divorced, buy materials, get engaged in discussions only to be happy.
You aim to dispatch an enemy to save your country and honor your ancestors because it’s going to make you happy. Your rival also has similar motives to join the battle.
People get sick of living in such a painful life. They believe it’s impossible to get rid of this unhappiness, so they find the cure in committing suicide.
Marriages and divorcements are only done to better current living standards because both sides believe they are going to be happier with or without each other.
It’s such a fulfilling to know that you’re right in a conversation. When you know your views are right, you feel happy because you know that you’re smart and can continue to live in comfort and peace.
We set goals and believe that we are going to be happy when we:
- have a fit and muscular body
- earn X amounts of money
- become lovers with someone
- obtain a title
- go to some country
- buy materials
However, reaching goals will only bring short-term satisfaction.
We fall into this trap when we can’t see the reality. It’s not possible to make a universal definition for happiness because of its unshaped, abstract, and subjective manner.
Why can’t we be happy?
It’s because we have no definition of happiness.
It feels natural to chase happiness for any human being but we don’t know what exactly we’re after.
When you ask an average person “What’s happiness for you? Can you tell me?”, they won’t be able to put into words.
The majority never stops and thinks about this once in their lifetime. Wouldn’t it be better if we had an idea of what we’re pursuing relentlessly?
It’s not a wise act to treat life as it’s a sloth machine. We insert the coin and wait for what’s coming next, then we feel good or bad according to the result. That’s how the majority live their lives, entirely on autopilot.
This is why nostalgia becomes so popular nowadays because the sections of happy moments remembered from our past gives the illusion of a truly fulfilling life when we don’t have a solid ideology on happiness.
The more we lack happiness, the more we look to the past to find some cues. We forget the hardships of long periods and remember only the joyful parts. This is how the human brain works on default.
It’s not an issue that the past was full of joyous and happy moments and right now is full of hardship and misery. You see an old picture and say “How beautiful were those times!” with a sigh.
People crave a strong longing for the 80s and 90s because they believe the world was a better place back then. It’s totally irrelevant. If there was a time machine and put you in old eras, you would desperately look for a way to come back here again.
We always crave what we don’t have because what we have becomes a part of our ordinary world. If you see the most beautiful view every single day for a year, you eventually come to the phase of “Yeah, whatever” at some point.
Happiness has a similar working mechanism. You can chase it relentlessly but it loses its meaning once you get it.
We demand perfection to be happy
In this age of rush, we have no tolerance if something goes slightly wrong. We easily treat a tiny problem as it’s the end of the world. Even if we don’t even remember it after a while, we still let it ruin our present moment.
People work 50 weeks and save some money for one to two weeks of vacation in a year. We handpick the best place for our holiday, book the most available tickets, and reserve the greatest hotel rooms.
Why? We’d like to chase perfection for this limited period of time.
Well, things don’t go in our way all the time. Our children get sick, the car breaks down, the rain starts, we can’t find any sunbed available on the beach. We get frustrated and keep amplifying our internal breakdown. The negative momentum takes over and steals the joy of the moment.
Our struggle for happiness turns into such misery. If we don’t want it to happen, we have to strengthen our ability to tolerate, so happiness can cross our path.
Want to reach happiness?
Put it somewhere close enough.
Happiness was easier to attain before because we did not see it unreachable.
Drinking cold sparkling water, playing soccer with friends, eating ice cream was enough back then because we did not have hard-driving expectations and desires.
Happiness was not in the back of beyond. Right now, we pay the price of living in the speed era.
Back then, you would be totally fine being an average carpenter because you were only responsible for copying what your father taught you as a profession. How about now?
You can watch the best carpenters, take lessons from thousands of courses, have contact with other great carpenters. More than that, it’s possible to choose other occupations and life paths. We have more options because our horizons broadened up as it has never been before in history.
So we feel obliged to shoot for the sky for the rest of our lives. We also set the bar very high for our right to feel happy. This is a serious mistake because happiness often lies behind tiny little things.
When this issue is grasped thoroughly, people finally get rid of a great deal of pressure.
Mark Renton: Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose to rot away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?
After these kinds of refreshing quotes mentioned in your daily life conversations, it always ends up to the same conclusion, “Yeah, that’s cool but what else can we do but continue to live like that?” in a totally desperate mode.
The average Joe, the most valuable member of the post-modern consumerist society, is always stuck in learned helplessness. Most people are nothing but trained products to become a consumer machine.
Their programming is all similar, such as:
- Pursue daily pleasures and instant gratifications
- Never delays certain needs for upcoming rewards
- Never sacrifice today for a better future
- Be more concerned with how things look rather than meaning.
- Prioritize hedonism as a lifestyle, and escape pain at all cost.
We want to be happy instantly like we want everything else. The past is forgotten, and the future is ambiguous.
Even if possible greater rewards are available in the future, we are not interested at all. We prefer everything to be consumable right now like the kids who failed in the marshmallow test.
“It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them.”
We also treat human relationships as consumable products. Our need for each other exceeded our love for each other. That’s why they all became toxic. We started to love the idea of what people can offer and fill the gap within us.
Your value is quantified with how much money you earn, how many followers you have on Instagram, or how many girls you slept with.
In a world where everything is ruthlessly commodified, it’s not easy to find happiness.
Hence the idea of “money can’t buy happiness” busted by science, research show that happiness does increase with wealth, but the correlation peaks at earning $75,000 per year.
“The lower a person’s annual income falls below that benchmark, the unhappier he or she feels. But no matter how much more than $75,000 people make, they don’t report any greater degree of happiness”
– Time reported in 2010, citing a study from Princeton University
We often believe that if we earn two times more, our happiness will increase in proportion with it. However, it may not even affect our happiness levels because the more money we earn, the more responsibility, stress, and work will be on our shoulders, which can even lead to missing the old days.
It’s not the material itself brings happiness but the experience we go through with it. An expensive sports car makes us happy when we travel, see new places, and share it with a friend. A super-luxury seaside residence can turn into hell when nobody visits you at the end of the day.
How are we going to be happy?
To want to be happy quick and fast is like to want to become taller.
It’s not rational because happiness is a by-product of good living. You can wish to be taller but is it possible? No, it’s not. So being wishful cures nothing but only brings more misery to your life.
Wishes can’t change the world but ideas and actions do.
The pursuit of happiness is a dead-end, non-logical, and poor struggle that can imprison you in a vicious cycle for a lifetime.
— Ragnar Lothbrok
Yeah, it sucks when you didn’t get the job you want on the first try but what really makes you sad is that you expected to get it the first time. You thought that -happiness would be more common than unhappiness- but it wasn’t so it was a slap in the face.
Emotions are unstable sources to rely on because they constantly change and leave nothing tangible behind when they’re gone. You can be extremely happy and have all the rights to enjoy the feeling but soon it will be alternated with something else, and that too shall pass. Happiness will not matter at the end of the day.
If all people in history would only aim at living a happy life, there would be no inventions, masterpieces, or improvement for humanity.
“There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy… So long as we persist in this inborn error, the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in things great and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining a happy existence… hence the countenances of almost all elderly persons wear the expression of what is called disappointment.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer
We’re not unfortunate when we are faced with sadness.
Happiness is not something that needs to be treated urgently. We’re just going through life. Happiness does exist, but it’s not as much as we think. So we will go through the hard times and cherish the few good times.
Great love and achievements are undoubtedly sources of happiness but they certainly involve great risks and sacrifices.
At the end of the day, if happiness is the celebration gift of success, it must be judged by what you had to give up for it.
When you look back and think, you will see all the battle cries and it will be the deserving factor which gives you the right of enjoying it.