Why are we unhappy?

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Mon Sep 19, 2022

If you open any social media platform, you can see 13 and 14-year-olds engaging in discussions about depression and anxiety. While our lives have become increasingly more comfortable and convenient – with things that were once considered impossible or a luxury like air conditioning and fast transportation now available to most of the general public, why are we still unhappy?

There are several theories and hypotheses, but I would like to discuss three of them in this article.

We are beings of chaos. Chaos is the natural state of the universe, so, it makes sense that we have fractions of it within us. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos was disowned by her family for her infamous "Judgement of Paris". Offended for not being invited to a wedding, she threw a golden apple in the dining hall and inscribed for the fairest, which resulted in an all-out war. But wars are instruments that aid in taking down poor authority and establishing better administration in its place. Eris has the power over strife, wrath, and rivalry, which are roundabout tools that increase human ambitions. With our efforts to win over each other, we also contribute to society and increase productivity. When we are happy, we don’t want things to change and if we stay in one place for too long things become stagnant, whereas sadness motivates us to change things to make things better. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that sadness fuels our economy.

The world is designed to make us increasingly unhappy. Imagine if we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-aging moisturizer? You make someone worry about aging. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to watch a new Netflix show? By making them worry about being left out. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with our non-upgrades existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.

It is all in our minds. Psychiatrist Anna Lembke explains this very nicely: our brain processes pleasure and pain in the same regions, but thinks of pleasure and pain as opposite sides of a scale. Whenever we feel pleasure or pain, the scale tips towards that direction and our brain exerts an equal and opposite force to counter that feeling, and restore balance. However, at that moment, as the brain tips towards the other side, we feel the most desire – just one more episode, one more drink, one more game, one more pack of chips, etc. When we are happy, our brain releases dopamine but eventually our brain pushes toward pain to obtain balance. But the more you chase this dopamine high, the more it eludes you as our body as a way of restricting dopamine to avoid overload which means you need more pleasure-inducing stimulus than you originally needed to obtain the same amount of pleasure. This is similar to any type of drug addiction. If we don’t get that stimulus, then our body experiences withdrawal symptoms, also known as sadness.

If we fight that impulse, then the feeling eventually passes, because the scale balances out, and homeostasis is achieved. This might be easier said than done but if I have finished this article without binging my latest Netflix favorite show, then you certainly can.

Here’s to a happier – I mean more balanced – life!

 

 

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2022 - Fall - Issue 2
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