Happiness in different epochs and different societies mean different things. From Aristotle to early modern age thinkers, happiness is binary to social order. It is only in recent decades that happiness is equated to life satisfaction which is determined by personal and individualized pursuits. I have always believed happiness to be a social construct –my friends think this is nonsensical. After all, sociology majors are always relating everything back to social constructs. Think about it though.
Some psychologists argued that happiness is innate. Some people who are genetically happier will be more successful in life as they are more proactive and positive. People who have less stable traits are more prone to mental illnesses thus leading a more handicapped life. Think depression and schizophrenia. A friend of mine would say it’s true – biology does play a role. He has always been adamant about happiness being a natural state of things. Just look at a mother who has just given birth to her baby. Yet, he forgets that it is only in the 21st century we value our offspring so much. Historically, children were a necessity to ensure there were be workers in the fields – villages needed them for labor. It was a social norm for families to have 10 offspring with only a few of them reaching adulthood. Death was a next-door neighbor.
Are you really sure what you are feeling is entirely your own? What we feel is often a reflection of our surroundings no matter how subtle they are. This is why marketing is such a powerful tool and companies use it excessively to perpetuate capitalism. When you watch the BPL there will often be advertisements in the form of signboards. Yes, their purpose is to stop the ball from getting out of the field, but researches have shown that we subconsciously absorb these information anyway.
Retail therapy (why is it even therapeutic) gives women happiness and makes a bad day better. Why? I am sure we are not born with that innate trait to buy things. Consumerism is always linked back to being happy and satisfied – just look at Loreal’s because you are worth it. It is a learned behavior. Look at how Asians are emptying the shelves of luxury brands. Status symbol in Asia is very important– it shows that you are wealthy and successful enough to afford these extravagances. Why do you buy them? Because they are “branded” and thus of better quality? I have never heard of a peer talk about the quality of her new bag or how long his 10k watch is going to last. It is rather the marker of opulence that makes us feel good in a society where having a lot of money means leading the good life.
Our increasingly heterogeneous communities perpetuate the notion of happiness as our entitlement but in actual fact, it is just shifting cultural norms and a changing emphasis on different things in life. Take a historical viewpoint. Don’t just take happiness at face value and think that we are in total control of our emotions when in actuality, emotions are usually socially induced and more often than not, we are being swayed right, left and center by our surroundings.
Like what Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, all men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains. Those chains include the happiness we claim we feel from time to time.
(Pictures by Christopher Luciano, Bruce Rosenstein,