March 28, 2009

Depressed? I blame the Enlightenment.

"Happiness is but a dream but sorrow is real."

- Voltaire

Whoever said I should be enjoying life?

We live in an age where we believe that we, as human beings, have a right to be happy. In fact, if someone isn't happy, there's something wrong with him or her. People should seek out enjoyment in life, and do everything within their power to advance their level of enjoyment.

This is a relatively new mindset that first took hold in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment and became a fundamental part of the United States' government and culture. Previously, during the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, the popular opinion was that life on Earth was just a short trial to be endured before eternal happiness and bliss, so most people stuck it out. During the Enlightenment however, with new ideas about God and the universe developing rapidly, and increased value of the individual, people began to believe that life in and of itself was something that could and should be enjoyed. Religion began to take a secondary role in many people's lives.

Before we know it, a new country is formed based on the "truths" that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I've definitely a right to be happy. It says so in the Declaration of Independence. But just because I've got that right doesn't mean I have to use it. I mean, I really want to, but I don't exactly have much of a choice. And I'm fine with other people having a good time. It's just that an awful lot of people choose to pursue happiness to a gross extent.

Believe it or not, there was once an age where it was perfectly OK to not be thrilled with life. People say that life was much harsher all around back then, but although we've got antibiotics and refrigerators and entertainment at our disposal, there is one universal thing that transcends time: emotion. Humanity has been sad all throughout history, but suddenly in the 21st century, I'm not allowed to be.


  1. I've loved this post.
    Right. You are right. We have to be happy, popular and always doing something.
    Take good care of yourself.

  2. This reminds me of Eddie Izzard - "You're pursuing happiness?" *whips up an imaginary lasso* "C'mere happiness!" Yeah, the *pursuit* of happiness is quite aggressive!

    And I know what you mean, sometimes it feels like a sin to be unhappy and/or lonely these days. Life is supposed to be what you make it and you're supposed to make it great...

  3. Life is like that obnoxious teacher who tells her students on the first day of class that they all have 100% right now but it's their choice to keep it.

  4. I think it's the promise of happiness that makes it so difficult. Like you said, whenever someone isn't happy they're treated as if they've caught the plague.

    And since we're all expecting the happiness that's been "guaranteed" to us, it becomes that much more difficult to cope with when it doesn't come as expected.

    If people were more willing to let others move at their own pace, maybe we all might find our own individual sense of joy someday. The most important thing is to stay true to yourself. Take care.