The Madness of The Pursuit of Happiness

David Wootton at Lapham’s Quarterly:

This problem is particularly acute in our modern consumer economy, in which political institutions, the economic system, and popular culture are all now primarily dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. This has had the perverse effect of creating a world of frustration and disappointment in which so many discover that happiness is beyond their grasp. The economy fails to deliver for the majority but urges everyone to spend beyond their means. We engage in “retail therapy,” spending for the momentary gratification of acquisition. We encounter advertisements that wrap themselves around us like a blizzard of snow, each promising that if we spend, and go on spending, we will be rewarded with endless delights. This spending helps drive climate change, which threatens to make the planet uninhabitable. Moreover, our sense of who we are seems to be increasingly detached from reality; we live out fantasy versions of ourselves, playing our own private form of air guitar. To constantly pursue something you can never catch is a form of madness. We have built this madness into the very structure of our lives. Every society in the world aims at economic growth, and every society encourages the endless accumulation of wealth. When it comes to wealth, we have great difficulty in saying enough is enough, because it is hard to know when we can safely say we have enough to face down every possible catastrophe.

How then have we come to build a whole culture around an impossible, futile, self-defeating enterprise?

more here.