Why Are We Unhappy?

Recently I watched a documentary titled, "I AM".  The documentary was created by director Tom Shadyac.
(director of Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty.)  The documentary dealt with his spiritual journey after a serious biking accident. Shadyac sought to find answers to these these two basic questions, "Why aren't we happy, and what is the greatest evil in the world?

I will attempt to answer the second question in this post.

The greatest evil in the western world, particularly in the US is materialism.  What do I mean by materialism?  Living for things themselves. Going above what you need to fill an insatiable desire for acquisition. 

Aristotle over two thousand years ago philosophized that the greatest end a human can aspire to is the good life. So what is the good life?  According to Aristotle it was when one's legitimate needs were met in this life.  So what were some of these legitimate needs?  Happiness, health, virtue, and harmony between man.  So how did one acquire these ends?  Through honest cooperation with others and through developing good habits especially the virtues of temperance, courage, and justice.  If a man was able to achieve this he would be happy. 

Our economy tells us the opposite; that we need to buy more and more things to be happy.  From the earliest age we are conditioned to believe that our lives are lacking and that the only way to achieve happiness is through buying more and more things.  Think about it...what is the greatest reason why most people want to be wealthy?  It is to buy more things, to live an easier life.  The problem with this logic is that it doesn't take into account what makes humans really happy.The turning point for Tom Shadyac comes when he is all by himself in his mansion and realizes that he is still unhappy.  Despite having it all he was still miserable.

The thing that makes humans the happiest is the development of virtue, which in turn will cause humans to think of others and think of more altruistic ends.  Materialism robs man of this because it goes against the virtues.   Materialism is intemperate because it desires more than is necessary.  Materialism is unjust because it fosters competition rather than cooperation and unbridled competition causes poverty. Materialism is a vicious cycle which begins with one person and ends up infecting an entire civilization.  St. John Chrysostom illustrates this point as he reflects,
"The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
Towards the end of the documentary Tom Shadyac gives up his mansion and private jet and decides instead to live in a trailer community while using his bike to commute to work.  Shadyac is much happier because he has given up his "stuff".  The antidote for materialism is to live simply and for others.


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