The winter of our discontent.

The question was asked: from whence does our despair culminate? What leads people to  need a source of hope and purpose? Well, obviously, I don’t know the answer to this and if I did, I might might find some amount of success publishing a psychology of happiness book. I do, however, have a few thoughts on the subject.

First, it has always occurred to me that the cultural template is flawed. Much like the RSA animate video on changing education paradigms, we seem obsessed with cramming our feet into shoes that don’t necessarily fit. First, we have established a system that strongly pressures young minds to commit to a lifelong pursuit before they really understand all that much about life. We instill a value of productivity, which is good, but productivity without much regard to contentment. Often, we see it treated much like an arranged marriage, where the authorities driving the developing individuals almost seem to have contempt for “true love” toward any occupation – treating it like an illusion that eventually unravels anyway.  They want to match the occupation not to the fickle desires of an individual, but to his or her intellectual potential.

So what’s the answer – let folks meander for a few decades in hopes they manage to “find” themselves? Much like a young child who must choose one candy bar from an infinite candy counter, this itself would likely end up in a fickle mess of false starts, indecision, and uncertainty. If one examines the typical life cycle of a young endeavoring mind, one sees tremendous motivation early in the professional cycle. These young professionals and artisans are eager to learn and do, driven to succeed and understand the world around them. But they see the world in a very superficial way – as a serious of challenges to be conquered. These minds rarely see the broader patterns that define our existence; they lack wisdom.

Wisdom seems to arrive at the plateau. What often manifests itself as the infamous “mid-life crisis” opens the eyes of an individual to a world of broader meanings. The spinning wheels and the inefficiencies in their former mode of operation become apparent and the individual begins to thirst for something deeper and more consequential. Alas, Western materialism that is the exhaust of the drive toward productivity often leaves us addicted to pseudo-values of possessions and the pleasures of general over-consumption. An awakening mind frequently recognizes the swamp in which one has become mired, but as it goes with swamps, the victim feels trapped. Changing directions in the cultural model we currently cultivate is often akin to starting over, a daunting proposition to one who has dependents and appetites. The choice frequently becomes following some risky dream or battling those inner demons of discontent – toughing it out.  Religion offers a way of coping with this feeling – one is buying into the benevolence in staying the course by surrendering to the false notion that true happiness cannot actually be found in this life. That whatever change the individual pursues, the same demon awaits novelty to wear off and leave the victim right back where she started. The only true escape is the afterlife.

One might notice that this mid-life crisis often strikes toward the end of the human fertility cycle. Despite what the ancients in the bible claim as life cycles, our bodies have not evolved to survive much beyond the time it takes to keep the last round of offspring alive, our life cycles are stretched by artificial ingenuity. Only a few short centuries have passed since men commonly survived beyond this strange stage of wisdom. Medical advances, impeccable supplies of food and shelter, understanding of what is dangerous to us. It would be interesting to see what the capabilities of man would be if the standard cultural model included a unique midlife pursuit that perhaps more often than not took the individual into a brand new direction that takes advantage of the character of a developed mind. Rather than seeing the 20s and 30s as an investment that leaves one exhausted and burned out through the 40s and 50s, what if tradition dictated a transition rather than a plateau?

Well, just some random thoughts that flowed from the question of discontent. 


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