Steve Cutts is known for creating thought-provoking animations that reveal profound insights about our societies. Truths that are hard to describe in lengthy books are condensed in a short animation that speaks to our deepest emotions with incredible clarity. His latest animation called ‘Happiness’ shows us that underneath all of our relentless struggles for wealth, power, influence, fitness, sex, excitement, achievement etc. lies a very fundamental quest, the never-ending pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. Happiness mostly manifests itself as an ephemeral feeling that we can barely grasp. Evolution didn’t build us to enjoy never ending happiness, an organism that would be build to experience endless satisfaction from a single meal wouldn’t bother to keep on eating. Thus nature shaped us to always crave more. When our basic physiological needs are satisfied, we try to fulfill our more complex psychological needs related to our intimate relations, and our social life within the tribe, the community or the nation that we’re a part of. Our political and economic systems are based almost exclusively around this relentless quest for happiness. Companies and politicians study our desires and fears and construct powerful stories that appeal in an almost irresistible way to our primal urges. Here’s the link to the animation and below it you can read the rest of my analysis.
The gospel of consumption
Consumption is the ultimate solution that our society provides. The key to personal happiness and economic success can simply be achieved through the mantras of consumption and growth. But just as food gives us only a very brief moment of pleasure and satisfaction, buying luxury products such as cars and electronics gives as only a fleeting feeling of happiness. Even though many of these luxury products may increase our comfort and well-being, we get very quickly used to their presence in our lives. From a luxury they swiftly become an absolute necessity. Thus, we have to the turn our sights on another target. The new TV might keep you happy for a week or two, but surely a new luxury car will make you endlessly happy. Right? The answer is always : wrong. No matter how luxurious or fast, even that new car will be unable to make our brains happy enough for a long period of time. We’ll always need something newer, something tastier, something faster, something better. And this is great news for the companies who thrive on our hunt for happiness. They can be sure that more and more people, will want to buy more and more things and this is supposed to great for the health of our economies and our nations. At least according to the politicians who fervently preach the gospel of growth and consumption. But in reality, does economic growth always translate into happiness, health and well-being?
In the ancient past of our species our preference for calorically-dense foods was an evolutionary advantage that allowed us to gorge on sweet and fat foods that were scarce. Today the mechanism that allowed our ancestors to survive works against us. For example, our preference for sweet and fatty foods gave birth to countless fast food industries that seek to give us a strong dose of intense yet very short-lived pleasure.The modern environment is saturated with sugary drinks, fried foods, candy, cheap and seemingly endless supplies of meat, cheese and bread. While one industry makes billions of these unhealthy foods it simultaneously creates a whole new market that is supposed to help us deal with the damage caused bu the over-consumption of fat and sugar.
On our quest for happiness we inevitably come across substances that provide us with instant and intense satisfaction. Many of these substances are deeply rooted in our cultures like alcohol, tobacco, pain killers etc. And of course behind each of these substances lies a giant multi-billion industry that sustains itself on our helpless attempts to minimize the physical or emotional pain that torment our minds. Of course, it’s hard to use products that are designed to hack the chemistry of our brain in a responsible or healthy manner. This fuels a growing demand in the market and creates even some additional industries that are supposed to deal with the damage caused by alcoholism, smoking and addiction to legal and illegal drugs.
Social media platform are also build in a way that encourages addictive behaviors. The algorithms exploit our feelings and provide us with an experience that keeps us hooked on the website, asking for more and more.
The money trap
The common theme between all of these paths to happiness is that they must inevitably be channeled though the medium of money. So in the end, for the vast majority of people, the quest for happiness is essentially a quest for money. A trap that promises us greater happiness, joy and comfort, but that fails miserably to deliver on these promises. While our physiological needs of nutrition and security can be met by products like food and houses, our complex psychological and sociological needs are very unlikely to be fulfilled in a society where most individuals are busy shopping and working profoundly unsatisfying jobs.
Unfortunately, there is no one solution that could miraculously transform our economy and our political system. We have much more control at the individual level, but we can never fully extract ourselves from the context of our civilization. I hope that by becoming more aware of the negative mechanisms of our society we will be better prepared to confront and change them.