I was talking to my mother last night and I remarked that it seems like, despite our best efforts at innovative entertainment and employment, we still aren’t really happy.
Perhaps I’m being naive. But, I’m not wrong, am I? Here in the U.S. we have one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. And yet, we also have the highest “lifetime risk of mood disorder” (aka depression) of any developed country (these statistics are from 2007, but I’d be willing to bet our rankings haven’t changed all that much in 13 years). Wait a minute — a flourishing economy shouldn’t mean people are unhappy, it should mean they’re content. Right? But that’s clearly not the case.
Depression has been called “a disease of modernity” by the U.S. National Library of Health and Medicine. According to one study, “[m]odern populations are increasingly overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived and socially-isolated. These changes in lifestyle each contribute to poor physical health and affect the incidence and treatment of depression.”
So, in summary: We eat a ton of food without getting any actual nourishment from it; we have a plethora of robots to do our work for us, yet we still can’t find the time to get a full eight hours of sleep; and despite the fact that there are now nearly eight billion of us alive at this very moment, we are constantly so lonely that it causes our brains to malfunction. I would have to agree with the data on this one: that lifestyle sounds capable of depressing even the most motivated among us.
Our economy is wildly successful, our cities are miles high, our electronics are top-of-the-line, we have everything one could possibly ask for. And yet we’ve got a case of The Little Mermaid. We’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, whozits and whatzits galore; You want thingamabobs? We’ve got 20 million. But who cares? We’re clearly craving something more.
You can’t grow up in our world without having at least a little part of you feel this way. This subject is the underlying theme of every single fairy tale ever written. We sneak this message into pop culture everywhere we can. Do popular songs have lyrics exalting the advantages of playing by the rules? No, of course not, that would never sell. What kind of a dream is that? All great art, at its core, is about revolution. Even Cinderella knew not to listen to her evil stepmother when she said to stay home from the ball.
Clearly, nobody really wants the things we’re supposed to be working so hard on. We don’t want toasters and microwaves. We don’t want color TVs and double, triple, quadruple size Big Macs. We don’t want cars that go faster or bigger airports. We don’t want computers instead of notebooks and Smartboards instead of chalkboards. We don’t really want 17 different cameras on our cell phones. And yet we continue to spend billions of dollars a year on these things. And we work 8 to 10 hours a day to be able to pay for them.
All we’d really like is to not feel like we are a waste of time. All we really want is to feel like we belong somewhere. I think our deepest desire is to be able to live in this world without having to go to war with it every single day. We just got a little distracted is all. It’s okay. Don’t feel bad, it happens to the best of us.
So, how do we get undistracted? How do we stop feeling like our only option is toasters and TVs and cell phones with 17 cameras? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. Please don’t brush me off because I don’t know. If you’re only looking for people who know everything, all you’ll find are liars.
I do know that I would like nothing better than to figure out an alternative to whatever this thing is we’ve created that eats and eats and eats and goes and goes and goes and never stops to look forward to where it’s headed or to look behind it at what it’s destroyed. Nobody really likes this thing anyway (if you need proof, just listen to the lyrics of most rock songs). We just can’t seem to find its off switch.
Well, we had better find it soon; because I think this machine is headed straight for a cliff.
Lucia Marsiglio is a junior at Delaware Academy in Delhi. Readers can email her at email@example.com.