Essays, Analyses and Meditations

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  • As i travel around the world, i notice vast differences in how happy people look. Arabs strike me as very unhappy. As they sit at the cafe chatting about sport and domestic issues (rarely politics that is forbidden) they tend to be angry and/or criticize rather than smile and laugh. Western Europeans and Japanese come second in terms of unhappiness. Western Europeans (with the exception of the British) seem to live in a constant state of depression, compared with USA citizens who tend to be more excited about daily life and more ambitious about the long term. Western Europeans seem to just wait for death to come. Then come the countries with really bad weather, Russia and Scandinavia. Eastern Europeans also seem chronically depressed, although in a different way. In the Far East i would rank the Japanese as the unhappiest, followed by the South Koreans, and then the Chinese. Happiest seem to be the poorer areas (Vietnam to Indonesia). Most Africans smile and laugh a lot more often than Westerners.
  • Suicide rates tend to support this ranking. Eastern European countries lead the world. France leads Western Europe, and both France and Germany are ahead of the USA. Japan leads in Asia. Poor countries tend to have low suicide rates.
  • I wonder which factors explain this ranking. France, for example, boasts one of the best "social-welfare nets" in the world, if not the best of all. They should be happier than the USA citizens, who live much more stressful lives (no job security, no universal health care). Rich people should be happier than poor people. The Japanese have very low unemployment. The countries of Eastern Europe are booming. And so forth. It looks like economic factors don't really matter: a good economy seems to hurt rather than help. And it looks like "socialism" doesn't help either: a bigger social-welfare net seems to produce more unhappiness.
  • Wealth and security don't seem to make people happier.
  • What makes people happy is meaning to their lives. Wealth perhaps reduces the meaning of one's life because there isn't much to improve. Humans "measure" our lives as a difference between what we have and what we had at birth. A vast social-welfare net indirectly reduces the meaning of one's life because it leads to people taking everything for granted: if "living" means struggling to survive, you don't need to "live" anymore in order to survive. Basically, the social-welfare net destroys a very biological feature. It almost acts at the genetic level: if society provides for us, we are no longer the same species. Wealth and security go against our genetic programming.
  • The price we pay for the safety net is a highly unnatural environment: a safe environment. The human species is not programmed to live in a safe environment.
  • Humans who live in affluent ("safe") societies are disoriented like an animal who wanders in an unfamiliar environment.
  • We are animals programmed to strive for wealth and security. Once we achieve wealth and security, we are no longer ourselves: our purpose ends, i.e. our life has no more meaning.
  • Our life makes sense only in a state of non-equilibrium: life is striving, not achieving.
  • The rate of suicides will increase steadily worldwide as nations become more affluent.
  • We may also commit a kind of mass suicide. We are the only species that managed to overcome the slavery of having to fight for survival. Ironically, now the only threats to our survival are created by ourselves (for example nuclear weapons and pollution). I wonder if this is just another way to commit suicide, but at a collective level instead of the individual level.
  • We call "life" two different stages of being alive on this planet. First we fight Nature and our life is a struggle in a dangerous environment. Then we conquer Nature and we live in the safe environment that we have created. We still call it "life" but it is something significantly different: it is almost the opposite. The heart beats in both stages, yet they are profoundly different.
  • We know how to live the first kind of life, but we don't really know how to live the second one. Therefore we make mistakes (hence the threats that we create to our own survival) and therefore we can't find meaning (hence the higher suicide rates).

Some interesting statistics:
  • World Happiness Report link
  • Legatum Prosperity Index link
  • Suicide rates in the world link
Proof-edited by Alexander Altaras