Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pursuit of 'Happiness' - Or Bunkum?

Thanks to the framers of the Declaration of Independence, everyone in the U.S. of A. feels entitled to what's called the "pursuit of happiness". But can you "pursue" what is a subjective feeling or attitude? And how do you define 'happiness' anyway? If a fleeting parameter of Being, then it likely depends on one's ephemeral circumstances. A wealthy one-percenter can certainly be 'happy' if he defines his life by material largesse and an enhanced number of choices that most of us can only dream about (unless we win a lotto, but even there - look at the numbers who've descended into misery after such winnings.)

Meanwhile, the two families depicted in the PBS Frontline documentary "Two American Families" :

give a good initial pretense of being happy in their respective Milwaukee lives, but by the middle of the program it's obvious even to the most brain dead viewer it's all a put-on, all display. I mean, how really "happy" can you be making seven bucks an hour, or working the graveyard shift with few benefits and not being able to make the house payments? How happy can you freaking be when the bank will not even accept a partial payment on the mortgage, but demands all $124,000 at once, and then forecloses when the family can't pay the whole? Afterward, the bank sells the same home at foreclosure for $38,000 to another family!

The African-American family appears to put on a better, more convincing display (thanks to their high-powered religiosity which appears to be a crutch or substitute)  but even that charade falls apart at the end. It is clear to the viewer these two struggling families who "played by the rules" will never move beyond their current station and hence their happiness in a nation that fairly worships money is limited from the start. Moreover this applies to millions of others, most tossed out of the middle class since the credit meltdown in 2008.

These sort of issues may explain that while the U.S. denizens ceaselessly proclaim happiness, many are downright miserable as evidenced by mental health statistics that show 20% with serious mental illness, from bipolar disorder, to deep depression and another 30% barely skating by with their own more manageable (given enough meds) depression or schizoid personality disorders. In addition, according to a recent TIME article ('The Happiness of Pursuit', July 8) the U.S. ranks 23rd in a 50-nation 'happiness index', behind Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark. Indeed, behind many nations that at least have a decent social protection fabric - as opposed to 'throw 'em to the wolves and let 'em sink or swim'.

The TIME piece also claimed that Harvard and Boston University investigators have "analyzed a gene dubbed DRD4, which is associated with the brain's dopamine receptors".

Evidently, this gene comes in several form or alleles,  "one of which codes for even -temperedness and reflection, while the other two for impulsive and exploratory behavior as well as a tolerance for risk and novelty".

Seems then like the  "other two" are the ones for extroversion, and it's pretty well a given these will produce those who generally will be happier in a sociophile culture that prizes gregariousness, risk taking and novelty.  Introverts, not so much. But at least we can reflect on our compatriots and how often badly deluded they are.

In his chapter 'Hidden Holocaust, USA'  in this book America Besieged , Michael Parenti demolishes the national happiness bromide for anyone infected with insidious, media-inserted false consciousness and Pollyanish delusion. He cites a typical year’s statistics to start, showing how these vary little year to year in the US of A (and this was BEFORE 9/11 and 90% of the populace turning into fearful neurotics- helped on by red, orange etc. "alerts" manipulated by the Bush Nazis) :

Amongst the items noted then (ibid., pp. 3-6):

 27,000 commit suicide each year

-23,000 murdered each year

-5.5 million arrested each year

- 25 million seek mental health assistance

-6.5 million use crack, speed, heroin, PCP or some other hard drug on a regular basis each year

- 37 million use emotion-controlling or numbing drugs, to face reality. Their own false optimism and delusions aren't enough to get them through the day

- 1.3 million suffer permanent kidney damage from treatments received at hospitals each year

-80 million go to some type of psychological counselor each year

- Up to 4 million women are beaten, battered

- More than 30,000 children are left permanently disabled each year from neglect and battering

- One woman is raped every 45 seconds throughout the year (700,000 in all a year)

-14,000 are killed on the job each year

- 60,000 are killed directly by toxic, environmental pollutants each year, 300,000 more get cancer from environmental toxins each year and die

- 5 million workers injured seriously on the job each year

- 4,000 die from ingesting contaminated meat each year

- 5.1 million behind bars, on probation or parole (higher than even China or Russia)

each week one thousand more people go into jails than leave

- 16 million with diabetes

- 10 million with a serious enough drinking problem to require special intervention

- 10 million suffer from asthma each year

- More than forty-six million with no health insurance- and just one catastrophe from bankruptcy

- 1.2 million elderly warehoused in nursing homes

- 950,000 school children per year treated with mind-control drugs to make them passive (half could be placed in home care with proper staff but states won't allow it)

- 4.5 million kids suffer from malnutrition

-More than 22 million unemployed

Most of these measures have worsened in the years since Parenti's take, for example the number behind bars, the number with diabetes, and the kids treated with mind control drugs to quiet them down - probably so they'll also remain quiet as adults and not protest, or complain. Well, you know, the "land of the free" - another myth pushed.  All of these stats embrace what the happiness subjective foolishness doesn’t: the warp and woof of absolute misery in America. By virtue of actual conditions and consequences of Americans (and their elite political class) ignoring or giving short shrift to their economic well being.

Other moronic chestnuts we’ve learned from assorted "happiness"  research (amazing that these charlatans can get funding but not NASA for asteroid surveys and detection):

-Most people are happiest in the mid -20s and then at 65 when they can retire.

- People who belong to religions are generally happier than people who don’t.

 - Winning the lotto doesn’t make one significantly happier than those who haven’t.

- Beyond about $50,000 a year, most people are not appreciably happier (I’d argue with that one!)

- Getting a raise doesn’t make one as happy as he originally expected it to.

- Having kids doesn’t make one as happy as anticipations lured one into believing.

Of course, some of these have since been changed, such as the one referencing $50 k a year as a 'happiness' level beyond which there are diminishing returns (the 'Easterlin Paradox'). In truth, the more money you have the more choices are available in a profit -oriented society. Ask the families featured on the PBS program who had to struggle just to get measly health insurance benefits.
Probably more relevant than these artificial markers is one major perceptual parameter based on one's exceptionalism. It appears that the more one perceives he or she is "exceptional" in a given field of endeavor or achievement or material acquisitions, the "happier" one seems to feel. This is difficult to manage, however, given a techno world of wonders which gives even idiots and blabbermouths the tools to compete. So yes, if you're on Facebook there are also 1.1 billion others, who can also mainline their good times and show them off. You're not so special.

Hell, half a billion people on Twitter can all "tweet" at the same time so that the quality of tweets is debased by the sheer numbers of them.  Keeping "score" of followers or page views (for blogs) is also another introduction of conceivable angst over being one-upped. Does 500 followers or 500,000 make one's blog better than one with 20? That depends! What is the content of the mass blogs? Is it showing a kitty on a stool punching out doggies? Is it a lizard fight one day then wrestling babies the next? The point is that a mass-followed blog is not necessarily a quality content blog.

Then there are the "friend" numbers on one's Facebook page. How many use this index to measure their acceptance? Sadly, too many do which is why Facebook then becomes a millstone rather than a liberating means of connecting to family, REAL friends (who you've at least met and formed a real bond with).

In terms of academic research, there is also the inevitable "pecking order" of status, which supposedly confers some innate happiness. If one is therefore a prof at Harvard or Yale he's assumed to be "happier" in his work than someone at the University of Pittsburgh or the University of Alaska.  But this makes assumptions which are themselves subjective. Perhaps the profs in Alaska chose that venue because they love being near to the Brooks Range and have access to nature, not merely being cooped up in a lab or library or beholden to entitled twerps or future political douchebags (on 'legacy funding') who think THEY are superior to the profs.

In the end, such status -seeking happiness is doomed to fail because it's predicated on artificial assumptions and one ironic truth: there will always be someone, somewhere who is superior in some way or form to you! Somebody with more money, a bigger home, a better blog, more Facebook friends, a seemingly superior academic pedigree , a better job .....or whatever.  Rather than cry and pout at that, the realistic option is to pursue your own well being in terms of fulfilling your own particular potential, whatever that may be. Indeed, a favorite Buddhist saying is that: "Happiness is being able to use one's abilities to the maximum".

Something to think about!

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