Brevity is the soul of wit.
Our quote above is from the “soul” of Shakespeare and is found in Hamlet. A heads-up for our readers who choose to follow our links into the depths of Self-awareness; this complete essay tends to be longer and more challenging than some. This doesn’t mean, of course, that it is “witless.” Googling “ennui” we find that the poet Charles Lloyd in his 1823 Stanzas to Ennui referred to it as a “soul destroying friend.” Are many of us becoming so bored with our lives that we are beginning to become self-destructive?
Pain and suffering is nothing new to our species but many of us hold out hope that our experience of life will get better. Sorry to be the advocate of not shrinking from the truth, but the human soul is in for a rough ride. “This is the future, and research suggests that it’s a rat race that is already taking a severe toll on our psyches. A 2017 study suggests that this trend toward increasingly market-driven human interaction is making us paranoid, jittery, self-critical and judgmental.” (1) So is our pain and suffering caused by our acquisitive nature? Should “shop ‘til you drop” be amended to “shop ‘til you can’t stand it anymore?”
The quote above is from Ruth Whippman’s book America the Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness Is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It for Real. We think she is right about the rat race and its effects but we doubt if she has any “realistic” idea what to do about it. First let’s look at the evidence for our destabilized psyches.
Rational animals do not commit suicide—not even lemmings—which turns out is a myth. Unfortunately for our species suicides are not a myth. “Suicide rates rose steadily in nearly every state from 1999 to 2016, increasing 25 percent nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday.” (2)
Thanks to science and technology, better medical science and labor-saving devices, our standard of living and basic comforts have made life in the post-modern world easier. Then why are we taking so many risks to avoid and distract ourselves from the experience of life?
For example, we all know that alcohol abuse carries a comparable of risk that the fictional lemming, unable to swim, takes when he takes a dive into the icy cold waters of the English Channel.
“After declining for three decades, deaths from cirrhosis, often linked to alcohol consumption, have been on the rise since 2006.” (3) And how do we know that this is part of our collective life-avoidance behavior? “Many alcohol researchers and substance-use clinicians believe the steady increase in problem drinking arises from a deeply felt sense of despair.” (3)
The links below will take you to a deeper analysis of the American ennui “dis-ease.”
Insight # 75: Realism knows well that happiness secures its greatest endorsement from the presence of pain. (4)
- Pain. Essay found in The ABC’s of Simple Reality, by Roy Charles Henry (2018), page 43.
- Suffering. Essay found in The ABC’s of Simple Reality, by Roy Charles Henry (2018), pages 266-278.
- Whippman, Ruth. “We’re All in Sales Now.” The New York Times Sunday Review. November 25, 2018, page 4.
- Carey, Benedict. “Suicide Rate Climbed 25 Percent Even as Prevention Efforts Grew.” The New York Times. June 8, 2018, page A1.
- Glaser, Gabrielle. “America, It’s Time to Talk.” The New York Times. December 31, 2017, page 4.
- Hibbard, Addison, and Horst Frenz. Writers of the Western World. New York: Houghton, 1954, page 895.