The mysterious duo behind Daft Punk announced—in an aptly named YouTube video, “Epilogue”— their retirement from music after 28 years together.
Even if you’re not into electronic house music, there’s a small chance you haven’t heard a sampling of their work. (One More Time is a Wilson Family Dance Party favorite.)
With their secret identities, cool robot helmets, and good music, Daft Punk is one of my happy makers.
What’s a happy maker? Well, it’s something that makes you happy.
For most of us, a happy maker might be a simple guilty pleasure like eating chocolate or listening to Jack Johnson. For others, it might be something more dangerous like sky diving or listening to Jack Johnson.
I think about happiness a lot. It was the main reason and focus behind the book I published last year.
But I’m beginning to wonder, are we putting too much importance on happiness at the expense of all the other valid human emotions?
Before I answer that, I have a quick little announcement.
Starting this month, I’ve decided to better organize our learning around a central theme instead of relying on a hodgepodge of randomness.
I believe focusing on a theme will allow us to dive deeper into our learnings instead of casually perusing each week.
This month’s theme is happiness, or rather, our obsession with happiness and why a little book written in 1932 foresaw what was to come.
Let’s get learning, shall we?
Happiness and only happiness?
I finished reading Aldous Huxley’s apocryphal novel, Brave New World last week. Published in 1932, the novel is a work of speculative fiction about a World State whose main purpose is to keep everybody happy.
This society has everything: genetically modified humans, a wonder drug called soma (all highs, no hangovers), uninhibited promiscuity, and personal helicopters (which I’m assuming were futuristic back in Huxley’s day).
Everyone is happy all the time. No one is allowed to feel otherwise.
As you can imagine, the novel describes a dystopia rather than a utopia. Having only one acceptable state of being—happy—comes at a cost, namely, no more free will, only endless distraction.
As I read this book from 1932, I couldn’t help but draw inferences to society today:
- How often do we tell someone to “take time away” when they lose someone close?
- How often do we answer “Good” with a forced smile when someone asks us “How are you going?”
- How often do we fear the stigma of admitting to being sad or depressed?
- How often do we numb our feelings rather than cope with them?
Huxley’s dystopia is all around us. Happiness has become the only acceptable feeling, everything else must be hidden away or ignored. If you’re sad, then somehow you must be broken. Even mental health is discussed through a single lens: happiness.
I don’t believe this is the right step forward.
We’re emotional beings, we feel—and should feel—a wide range of emotions.
But what’s causing this shift?
I’m not 100% sure, but I have a hunch.
So much soma
Let’s revisit happy makers again.
Why are happy makers important? Well, happy makers are our own. They’re unique. They’re a walk in a park, a visit with the grandchildren, a good book, or a Jack Johnson album.
They are the small, simple pleasures in life.
With technology advancing, shouldn’t we have more time for these simple pleasures? Shouldn’t we be happier as a society?
I think we should, but the numbers say the opposite.
Our happiness has become concentrated into glowing little rectangles that beep and ding and make us feel validated. It’s not even true happiness, it’s a diluted hedonic view of happiness.
We crave something deeper but keep turning to our phones. An average American adult spends about 3 and a half hours on their phone every day.
We aren’t relying on life’s simple pleasures for little boosts of bliss, we’re pulling out our phones—on the bus, in the waiting room, in bed—and scrolling for dopamine hits.
We know we’re only a few taps and swipes away from a soma-vacation.
Huxley predicted it all.
So what are we supposed to do about it?
We need to feel all the feelings
The answer, I believe, isn’t trying harder to be happier without our phones, the answer is letting yourself feel all the feelings.
Boredom. Wonder. Sadness. Fear. Intrigue. Enjoyment. Anger. Contentment.
Emotional regulation is the term and what we will be exploring in-depth this month.
- How should we approach feelings other than happiness?
- How do we diversify our sources of happiness?
- How do we stop judging our feelings?
I have two children and I don’t want to pass on to them a world of manufactured happiness. I want them to understand their feelings and know what to do with them.
I want them to be human.
So, I’ll close with a Theodore Rosevelt quote I was reminded of while watching the Mars rover land last week:
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
Or as Bill Bryson puts it:
“We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.”
Until next week,
P.S. – If you’d like to help me grow this Learning Letter, I’d really appreciate you sharing them with friends and family and asking them to sign up. Thank you in advance 🙂