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Finding Authentic Happiness

The steps that build a solid foundation
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 6:22 AM
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Executive Summary

  • Why buying into the Status Quo undermines personal empowerment
  • Echew debt and consumerism. Instead, focus on cultivating resilience and social capital
  • The importance of differentiating hedonia vs eudaimonia
  • The key roles of Expectation, Narrative, and Challenge
  • The foundations of happiness

If you have not yet read Part I: The Pursuit of Happiness, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

In Part I, we challenged the assumption that the successful pursuit of happiness is based on material prosperity and what we might call the psychology of the atomized individual.

If material prosperity is necessary but insufficient, and our social and financial order is sociopathological, what does an authentic pursuit of happiness entail?

For answers, we can survey recent research into human happiness, and consider “powering down” participation in a deranging social and financial order.

Pondering Power

The primacy of power in human society is omnipresent. Humans scramble for power in all its forms to improve social status and the odds of mating, living a long life, and acquiring comforts.  What is remarkable about the current American social order is the powerlessness of the vast majority of people who have “bought into” the Status Quo. 

When the public vehemently disapproves of a policy, such as bailing out the “too big to fail” banks, they are routinely ignored, and for good reason: They keep re-electing incumbents.  Most have little control over their employment status, workflow, or income, and most devote the majority of their productive effort servicing private debt and paying taxes that service public debt.

The one “power” they are encouraged to flex is the momentary empowerment offered by purchasing something; i.e., consuming.  The corporate marketing machine glorifies acquisition as not just empowering but as the renewal of identity and the staking of a claim to higher social status – everything that is otherwise out of the control of the average person.

The dominant social control myth of our consumerist Status Quo is that wealth is power because you can buy more things with it.  But the power of consumption is one-dimensional and therefore illusory.  The only meaningful power is not what you can buy – a good, service, or experience – but what you control – your health, choice of work, income, surroundings, level of risk, and your circle of colleagues and friends.

The “wealthy” who own an abundance of things but who are trapped in debt are not powerful.  Their choices in life are limited by the need to service the debt, and their pursuit of happiness is equally constrained.

The kind of wealth that enriches the pursuit of happiness is control over the meaningful aspects of life. It is no coincidence that studies of workplace stress have found that those jobs in which the worker has almost no control over their work or surroundings generate far more stress than jobs that allow the worker some autonomy and control.

Financial and material wealth beyond the basics of creature comfort is only meaningful if it “buys” autonomy and choice.

We all want power over our own lives.  Once we free ourselves from social control myths, we find that becoming powerful and “wealthy” in terms of control does not require a financial fortune. It does, however, require sustained effort and a coherent long-term plan...

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