Summary of an important article here. Please read it…
Haque argues that happiness, for humans, involves social activity, possibly pointless social activity. Happiness is a side effect of getting to really interact with people (of all types) in your own neighborhood and unintentionally building connections.
This is important because our society (neoliberal capitalism) does not encourage this form of connection at all. It encourages selfishness, fake individualism and misery, in order to make you largely helpless consumers, and stop you collaborating with people in general. Happiness has become a business, but real happiness is free. Unhappiness has become a political tool, to drive further unhappiness and possibly to support neoliberal fascisms.
He opens. In Europe:
I leave the house. I can’t go twenty feet without someone shouting my name. Hey, Umair! It’s the old gay couple who lives around the corner. How are you guys, I shout back, over the roar of a bus and a scooter. Me and Snowy walk on. He sees one of his buddies. This is twenty feet later. They squeal in excitement, and I’m talking to Karina, little June’s mom, about her new job. We walk on, and thirty feet later, it’s my new friend Jane, who works at the cafe I’m going to, and she’s going to sing on one of my songs, because she’s an aspiring singer. Another fifty feet. An elderly lady swoons over little Snowy. Gets misty eyed. Tells me about the dogs she’s had. We stand there talking, and I get a little emotional, too.
Half an hour’s gone by. We finally make it to the cafe, which is five minutes up the street. And there, the whole thing starts over. The crew working at the cafe says Snowy! They pet him and he grins up at them. He begins to boop random people — it’s his favorite thing — and they lean down and say hi. Plenty of us begin. There’s a girl there who’s moving over from America, a young distinguished scholar, and we make quick friends. The couple we see every other day is there, and we talk about what’s new in the neighborhood.
An hour’s gone by. And I’ve barely had my coffee and begun to have my thinking time. LOL. In America? None of this happens. Everyone walks on by, in stony silence.
Perhaps in the US, everything is so transient, or so dependent on precarious incomes, that people defend themselves by not bonding with each other casually. He continues
My happiness levels rise because of the way life is in my little neighborhood in Europe. They rise dramatically. It’s not a small thing. It’s a big one. In America? I go a couple of weeks without this intense level of daily sociality — and I begin to feel shaky.
America has no hope of happiness, because everything is neoliberal, individual, a private good. There is, in the cities, at least no building of community, and this creates unease, and danger – anyone could shoot you – you might need to bear arms to defend yourself and frighten others away. Indeed, breaking connection may lead many people to madness, making the streets seem full of danger increases that madness, and leads people to embrace organised closeness and protection as in street gangs or political gangs who denounce the other side.
Psychology has come to understand this. This open secret to happiness: sociality. And it flips everything on its head, really. Think of the way that Americans chase happiness. All those books, classes, quests. Happiness is chased the way everything else is in America: as a private good…
Happiness is not a private good. So you can’t go out there and chase it individualistically that way, like a little atom. That’s why this happiness industry in America so often appears to be selling snake oil.
Humans are social animals, not disconnected beings. they require connection to be content or happy, even if they don’t realise it, and keep contacts down to be safe . Probably Trump supporters get more out of associating with like-minded and bonded people than they do out of Trump’s words or policies.
What does my little daily set of interactions in Europe do? I mean that literally. Think about it. To get to a cafe that’s five minutes away, I spend half an hour chatting. Laughing. Smiling. Knowing, sharing, giving, caring. Sometimes these encounters are with my neighbors. Sometimes they’re with perfect strangers. Sometimes, they’re mundane. Sometimes, they’re deeply moving and profound. But in either way, I am enriched. Vastly enriched. I’m lighter, having shared my own worries and concerns. I’m more joyous, feeling the happiness of someone else about something good in their life.
We are connected.
Happiness to repeat is social – working together, being together. It has nothing to do with buying things, or being alone.
What does that mean happiness is? Happiness is a public good. That might sound trite, but I assure you, it’s not. Think again about America. How is happiness framed? Titles of a few of those bestsellers about happiness: “The Art of Not Giving a F&ck.” “How to Be a Badass.” America’s approach to happiness is about individualism, about having happiness as a private good, something you possess, own — like anything else in a capitalist society, really, no different from, say, a big house all your own, a sports car, a wine cellar.
But happiness, it seems to me — and to psychology, increasingly — is not that at all. It’s a public good. And that means that either we all have it, or we don’t.
That is the social secret that could help change society for the better. But who will risk it? who will not convince themselves they already have enough of other people?