I heard on the news this week that my home town of Blackpool, is one of the most highly prescribed places in the country for anti-depressant prescription, with 1 in 6 adults being prescribed them a month. Yet when I look on my social media, or look up from my phone at the adverts and shops around me, I see smiley white teeth and big happy eyes looking back at me.
The Happiness industry is everywhere; a movement which suggests that we ought to be happy, all of the time. It is there in the type of clothes which are fashionable this year, the films we go to watch, the jobs we try to get and the lives of the reality TV stars we envy. We scroll through Instagram seeing endless photos of happy, smiley people having the time of their lives in glamorous locations, and wonder why is my life not that fun? Why can’t I be like them?
They seem so much happier than me.
There is a culture of smiley emoticons, and compulsory happiness all around us, driven by an individualistic and materialistic definition of success; the more we have and the luckier we are, the happier we are supposed to be. We endeavour to be more successful, and earn more money, so we can get that face cream which will make us look 10 years younger, just like the lady on the advert which follows you around the internet, playing on your insecurities.
But have you ever really thought about what happiness is for you? Is it feeling good about how life is going for you, either today or where it might be going tomorrow, next week, or next year? What makes you happier than you are right now? I’m not sure that many of us actually know the answer to these questions, because the statistics indicate that a lot of us are actually quite unhappy. For me, the elephant in the room of the Happiness industry is that it just isn’t working, because if it was you would assume that due to the amount of money, time and effort we put into our happiness that we would be getting happier, but we aren’t.
So what can we do to get round this problem and give us the happiness we search for? Given the sheer amount of suffering in the world, perhaps there is a scientific solution to the pursuit of happiness? Should we all be implanted with devices which will constantly stimulate our ‘reward centres’, or perhaps we should all be on happiness drugs so we are happy all the time? With suicide being the leading course of death in the UK for men under 40, there must be a case to be made for both these scientific interventions in our pursuit of happiness. Perhaps there would be less war and conflict, people would work more efficiently, or be better members of society. So what’s the problem?
Well, this would eliminate the Happiness industry. We would lose all interest in scrolling through the lifestyles of the rich kids of Instagram, watching the idyllic LA life of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, or spending £50 on that face cream. It is in the Happiness industry’s interest to keep us decidedly unhappy, always wanting for more.
But perhaps what is interpreted as unhappiness is actually a healthy thing. Many of the things which make us strive and want to exceed our own and other’s expectations of us, is the very pursuit of happiness. Take this pursuit away, and perhaps everyone would stop bothering about, well, pretty much anything. Why work hard when you are happy without money, without more material possessions, why do anything at all?
The Dali Lama often said the that point of life is to be happy, implying that happiness is an end in itself; a total state of happiness is what we should be aiming for, as the cause of all suffering is human desire. I can’t imagine when he said this that he was thinking of the often trivial interpretation on happiness most of us experience on a regular basis; I’m thinking of the smiley emoticons and chewing gum feel-good pop music.
On the contrary to the Dali Lama, I think the pursuit of happiness and human desire to change and better ourselves, is the way that we experience happiness. It is the activity and the pursuit itself which gives us the satisfaction and the purpose we require to generate happiness.
The definition of happiness will differ for every person, as we are all different. But I would encourage you to think about what your definition of happiness is? What are the things, which if all of them were achieved, you would consider yourself to, in that moment, be happy? The problem arises when we do achieve the things we want; that promotion, that handbag we have been saving for, and we then move on to wanting something else, another promotion, another handbag.
It seems to be the nature of the human condition that we will always keep wanting for more. Advertisers know this and they will continue to exploit it. So perhaps the way to overcome this never ending journey, and beat the Happiness industry, where the destination is always just out of reach, is to acknowledge that perhaps happiness isn’t a destination, but the very journey of trying to achieve the things we want.
John Lennon said “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”.
Well perhaps happiness is what happens, while you’re aiming for all those different things you want.