A Misleading Phenomenon

April 23, 2018
By Baileyclewis BRONZE, Austin, Texas
Baileyclewis BRONZE, Austin, Texas
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Ironically, those pursuing happiness find themselves far from it throughout their journey. Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory, explores this trend and states, “happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing... but happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” The American dream and pursuit of happiness has evolved into a dangerous mindset for individuals, that one must be happy all the time. Although the idea of pursuing happiness as a goal seems fulfilling, actually doing it causes detrimental effects on individuals.
As society projects this superficial image of people always being happy, individuals reflect over their own life and feel unsatisfied with the amount of happiness they find. Although educated peoples, including Barry Schwartz, inform others to let happiness be a byproduct, individuals want to ensure happiness through setting it as a goal. By doing this, one, sometimes consciously sometimes not, sets expectations on this uncontrollable feeling. When humans unconsciously set happiness as a goal, it tends to be a motivating factor. Consider the following train of thought of a student, known as the “GPA mindset:” If I make a 90 instead of an 80 on my test, I will be satisfied and/or happy. If I reach a GPA of a 4.0, life will be better. Because society has morphed the idea of happiness into success, referencing the American Dream, students unconsciously expect to feel happy when they reach a certain goal. Once students reach their goal, they feel discontent because they set an (unconscious) expectation on happiness. After reaching their physical goal, many do not meet their mental goal (of happiness,) and form new ones as a result. If only I could make a 95 instead of a 90. If I could be in the top 5% of my class then I will be satisfied. This cycle within human nature, chasing “happiness” and instead feeling discontent, manipulates individuals and causes a variety of psychological effects, including self–worth issues and shame. If only people could realize one cannot control this uncontrollable feeling.
Outside circumstances, such as others’ actions, limits one’s ability to settle with happiness because one cannot help to process certain emotions. Bullying, for example, is a day-to-day obstacle many young children face throughout their eight-hour school day. Because bullying is brutal, students (unconsciously) dwell on this outside circumstance when preparing for their school day. Although these children might be perusing happiness through doing what they love, they still spend time processing heavy, new emotions as they question their self-worth and interpret the day’s events. The bully’s actions are out of the victim’s reach, and therefore intervene with the student’s ability to feel (overall) happiness. After self-reflection, the child blames themselves for not fulfilling society’s expectations (of constantly being happy), also known as the child’s unconscious expectations, causing a loss of self-worth.
Not only does the goal of happiness produce discontentment, but loneliness also. Conformity, a psychological tendency/need of most human beings, gives people sanity and brainwashes citizens to feel “normal.” This feeling reduces anxiety within an individual because most people fear peculiarity. As society persuades citizens to think that being happy all the time is “normal,” others feel pressure to conform. After trying to define the undefinable, they question themselves because they cannot fulfil societies unattainable expectations. This process creates an interesting paradox: the people unable to fulfill societies expectations concerning happiness feel alone/different, although majority people feel the same way. Unfortunately, most are afraid to speak against social norms because they want to conform rather than stand out. Until one speaks up for the majority, these people that chase happiness as a goal ultimately feel alone though they create the new, unspoken norm.
Although qualified, educated individuals, such as Barry Schwartz, understand the dangers of perusing happiness, it won’t change the millions of people struggling with the detrimental side effects, including discontentment, loneliness, and lack of self-worth. Just like happiness, one cannot ensure the best through controlling the uncontrollable. For this reason, people say “the best things aren’t planned.”  Therefore, one should not pursue the uncontrollable feeling of happiness, but rather accept the pleasant feeling as a byproduct.


The author's comments:

As social media increases, teenagers around the world present their life in a prestigious way, highlighting their accomplishments and life. Although this form of communication can be helpful, social media often produces a misleading, superficial image of teenagers in society. Many rathar share the happy events in their life and (intentionally and unintentionally) avoid posting anything else. Now, teenagers believe constant happiness as reality, and accept it as an expectation. As a result, those, or majority, teenagers persue after this goal of happiness, but instead face the detrimental effects. 


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