The simple things can be the most difficult, and the most basic things are those that are most forgotten. If you are reading this, your life can’t be all that bad, compared to the large number of people who don’t have internet access, don’t have the time to read, maybe haven’t even had the chance to learn to read. Your life is better than that of most human beings who ever lived.
There it is.
The ultimate matter that just hides in plain sight: Before we can even talk about happiness, we acknowledge existence. It’s such an obvious issue, it hardly seems worth pointing it out – but it’s also at the very foundation of happiness.
For all you can know for sure (belief is another matter), you only get this one life you have right now. The combination of factors that has gone into making *you* alive, right here, right now, is such a chance event, it should be impossible to find *this* person you are, alive, here, now. Yet, the probability has turned from ridiculously low into a solid 100%. – You are here, aren’t you?
Most people who are alive rarely get the chance to even wonder about their existence, being busy enough just eking out an existence. Even when we have the time, we don’t necessarily think about it too much. You have to be so inclined or get into a situation that makes you wonder. Too much rumination is not even good for us.
Yet, our existence is the foundation of philosophy and religion, and the core of us. And sometimes, puzzling over such deep, metaphysical – and at the same time, easy and mundane – matters is one of the best ways of seeing things in a different way, noticing how precious this life and this world is.
The Human Planet
We can get into it in more practical – and ecological – ways, too. One of the things that is sometimes held against us (by us, who else?) is that humans spread pretty much everywhere on Earth – but it is a positive, too.
All species need to live in environments – sets of conditions – that they can survive and reproduce in. (These relationships between environment and organism is the core issue of ecology.) Many species are specialists, sometimes to absolute extremes; some are generalists. We humans are easily the pinnacle of generalists, able to get by in – and even create conditions in which we can live – in all the ecosystems Earth has to offer.
Modern technology has enabled us to change our environments in new ways recently, far beyond what was possible before. And yet, people have always been living in and with environments they encountered and created.
Many landscapes we now consider beautiful nature, and which are rich in plant and animal species, are actually cultural landscapes, created by human influence. Even cities – albeit not as the megalopolises that are currently spreading – have been around for thousands of years, able to function as centers of commerce and culture, and simply of life.
Even before modern globalization, goods were being traded from China to Europe, from Central America to the American Southwest. People created the Pyramids and the Great Wall long before modern construction equipment was even just an idea.
At the same time, we have always remained dependent. Something as simple as the weather can have tremendous influence on our daily moods; living in cold environments raises other concerns than living in heat. Heating or air-conditioning can get around that somewhat, but are also dependent on their own sets of conditions – the provision of energy, not least. A lot of creativity has historically gone into finding ways to make conditions at least bearable, and with the tools at hand, though (think clothes, heating and insulation of houses in Northern climates; architecture and clothing for the heat).
That human beings have been around does not mean that humans must continue to be around, no matter what. That we did not (always) have negative effects on nature does not mean that we can do whatever we want without any ill effect to ourselves. Civilizations have come and gone before.
Living in a balance with our environments, as beings who depend on them even while creating them, is a balancing act. It is always a performance of living, a balance between what we encounter, what we create, and how we can and do act. It is a challenge to our creativity, to our desire to live well and happily, beyond mere survival. This performance is what we call life.