Modern Happiness

Modern Happiness May 31, 2024

John Mark Comer says that most ethicists have historically defined happiness as a kind of contentment that comes as the result of disciplined desire. In every area of life, happiness is a result of disciplining our desires. In other words, we have to curb some of our wants and desires and then cultivate others.

However, this is not the approach to happiness that modern people are pursuing. In fact, this has become a bit of a foreign concept to many people.

Charles Taylor, in his well-researched book, A Secular Age, says the western world has changed from a culture that lives under certain authorities, to a culture of “authenticity.” In other words, we used to live under external authority structures, like God, the Bible, tradition, and so on. However now, most Western people are ruled by their desires or whatever their internal “authentic self” wants to do.

Taylor believes that the tipping point that lead us down this path was the introduction of the teachings of Sigmund Freud. So many of his ideas created the cultural air we now breathe. These ideas really began to come to fruition in the 1960s.

Freud believed we should pursue the desires of our heart and for him the most important desire was our libido. He defined libido as our desire not just for sex but for pleasure as a whole. He did not believe we should repress our desires, for repression of desire is the basis of all neurosis and excessive anxiety. Freud believed the reason people were unhappy is because other people were telling them not to follow their desires.

Freud’s ideas seem to have won the fight for the Western view of reality, with phrases like: grab all the gusto you can, indulge yourself, follow your heart wherever it leads, and if it feels good, by all means do it. Freud’s view of happiness seems to have won the day.

However, most people are not aware of how miserable and unhappy Freud was in pursuing his own prescription for happiness. Armond Nicholi reveals this in his book The Question of God. In a letter to his physician, Freud commented on how elusive happiness is. He said, “You think you already have it in your grasp and it is always gone again.” Later Freud concludes “What good to us is long life if it is difficult and barren of joys, and if it is so full of misery that we can only welcome death as a deliverance.”

Freud appeared to recognize his worldview offered a bleak outlook and little hope for happiness, but he struggled with a solution. Despite this, millions of people continue to follow his teachings, leading to a predictable struggle in their quest for contentment.

Happiness has become about feeling good and not about living wisely. The good life has become about satisfying the desires of our bodies instead of becoming the kind of people that God desires for us to be and living the life He desires for us to live.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

Browse Our Archives