For the longest time, it seems, happiness was not something to talk much about. You sometimes happened to find some happiness in this life, but it was not a natural feature of this world, let alone something you chased yourself.
Now, in contrast, happiness is no longer something seen as out of our hands (and in God’s, or fate’s). And yet, it still seems as if you have to either make it to heaven, or find ways to get free of as many of the bounds of a normal life as possible… At least, you have to become so rich that you can buy whatever you want, move wherever and live however fancy strikes you – or at the very, very least, develop an attitude of being happy whatever at all may impact your life.
It’s all predicated on some removal from life, a loosening of the bounds with this world. The only rootedness there is to these notions -when they don’t go the way of the transhumanist wanting to be nothing but a mental/computer process – is in the whimsy of the body, the pleasures that power, food, sex, and other’s envious adoration can bring.
And yet, we know – whether that’s because you believe that you, too, are a part of (a) creation or because it is easily apparent that it is scientifically true – that we live only as members of the community of life, the planetary ecosphere.
Without life, no happiness.
First, because it requires life, existence, but also because the history of human happiness is bound up in human history. The things that make us happy are the things that contributed to our survival and procreation.
Of course, our ideas of happiness are also bound up in our social and cultural context. It is not just the survival of offspring that shaped human societies, it is also the survival and spread of ideas – memes, as they are sometimes called nowadays.
The very thought that happiness is something we can gain through our own doing, in this world and this life, rather than something that is in (a) God’s hands and/or reserved for an afterlife, if we are lucky, is very much a novel and Western idea.
Then again, we can look at the things that make happy, and even though they will weigh differently in different contexts, these are elements of any human life, needs of any human being, that will contribute to a good life, no matter who and where.
The desire for social interaction, and also for some autonomy and a feeling of control over life, for example, can already be found among young children, and to some extent even among other (social) animals.
In all our continuing delusion, in telling ourselves and being told stories of happiness coming from ever more money, ever more possessions, and ever bigger (and “better”) stuff – “my house, my car, my family, …” not to forget “the latest smartphone” – we know that this is not real. We chase it, if we are not outsider enough to have other aims in life, but even so, we know that these goals are empty and unfulfilling – so, we run ever faster chasing even more.
A big part of the problem, apparently, is that it seems we can – if not have to – do whatever we can – and misunderstanding that, we try to have it all. Life, however, is not about “having it all,” it is about the necessary (and difficult) balance.
It is all the more about balance because what we may want is limited. There are ecological limits, first of all, and though they can be extended for quite some time, they are ultimately fundamental.
We can easily compare that to our own bodies – also (eco)systems and parts of wider systems, after all. Here, too, it is quite possible for us to ‘cheat’ some things. Try not to breathe for a while, and it obviously doesn’t work. Eat badly, however, and the ill effects will only become apparent over time, until it turns out that, yes, it is possible to live off junk food – but it is not conducive to good health and fitness, and detrimental to happiness.
It is here, too, that we may come to a better understanding of happiness as part of this world. In realizing the connections there are, between our bodies, our minds, our societies and cultures, and the ecology of life and happiness, we find the best way to really find the good life.
Limits and necessary balances aren’t obstacles to deny or fret, either. They are a challenge to our creativity.
Within these limits, the opportunities are not very limited. Different ways of life are possible – looking at the “Human Planet,” very different ones – and all the more if we earnestly started looking for future #ecohappy ways to combine the best of past tradition and the best of modern living…
The talk – or rather, the perceived insult – of limits arising from our bounds within this world is also misleading in another way: It sounds negative, like a burden and a chain.
In fact, though, it is a way of thinking about the things that truly make happy and the things that are truly important, in a life, and for living better. This frame frees us from the hodgepodge consideration of anything and everything that so often drags us down, because it seems as if we could do anything, become anyone, have everything – but in the process, become trapped in not knowing what we ourselves really and truly want.
There is still only too much to live for and towards, to try and focus on, let alone grow – but at least it is the things that make happy, things that often come into synergy with each other and help get to a really better life, in more ways than just in the possession of one more accoutrement of “having made it” (or not falling by the wayside completely, as it has so often become when people purchase things they can’t really afford just to feel that they, too, belong to the middle-class having this-or-that).
Yes, growing (in) our health, fitness and knowledge, our skills and competence – and also our food and the things we need – and thus our autonomy, our relationships and families, and then also our better homes and environments – into flourishing together rather than destroying the one for the other – thus: living as a part of this world – will get us to the really better.