“Life expectancy in the United States declined again in 2017 (for the third year in a row), the government said Thursday in a bleak series of reports that showed a nation still in the grip of escalating drug and suicide crises. The data continued the longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918. That four-year period included World War I and a flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in the United States and perhaps 50 million worldwide.” – The Washington Post
Apparently, the only thing as dangerous as fighting a savage German war machine while trying to dodge one of the most lethal pandemics in history is amusing ourselves to death in the most prosperous society ever created. There are Roman emperors who would have cried themselves to sleep in envy if they could have seen the food, pornography, music, air conditioning, and video games that the average American enjoys that they would never be able to partake in. Oh, and those emperors were at the top of the food chain. The vast majority of people throughout human history have been miserably poor, eking out brutally difficult lives under the harshest of circumstances, which certainly doesn’t describe most Americans, although we seem to think it does. Never in all of human history has less been demanded of people in order for them to survive in comfort. We don’t have to go back several hundred years, either, to when most of us would have been illiterate, unarmed farmers living in shacks while we tried to coax enough food out of our small farms to survive, all the while fearing that a horde of violent men might swarm over the hill to burn our houses, rape our daughters, and steal everything we owned.
The same woman whose grandmother couldn’t drink from a white water fountain and who had dogs sicced on her by police for marching for civil rights is having a hysterical fit in public because someone left a noose in a tree on campus. The same guy whose great-grandfather was trading rifle shots in a hellish jungle with Japanese soldiers is scared to own a gun because he doesn’t trust himself to handle it without shooting himself in the foot. A woman whose great-grandmother stayed in a bad marriage — for the sake of the children and to avoid the shame of divorce — where she was slapped around is leaving her husband because he spends too much time at the office trying to pay off the overly large house he bought at her urging. Point being, most of the “huge problems” we obsess over today would have been laughed off a few generations ago if they’d even been noticed at all.
Meanwhile, we’re constantly distracted. Distracted by the outrage of the day that we’ll have forgotten two days later. By people we’ll never meet doing crazy things on TV and YouTube. By games — where the fate of the planet literally hinges on our actions — that we have hours and hours to play because we have nothing of significance to do in the real world. By the beeps and boops of our phones. By the “likes” and “follows” that people we’ll never meet are giving us on social media.
There was once a time when, if you had a job, you made the product from top to bottom. Maybe being the blacksmith wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world, but when the blacksmith saw a horse riding through his village, he could take pride in knowing that it was wearing his horseshoes. The tailor got to see people wearing the shirts HE made from scratch. The farmer grew his own food and if he was lucky, other people paid him money to partake in his crop. What percentage of our population gets to have that same pride today as compared to being one of thousands of employees playing a small role in producing some mega-corporation’s product?
What about the family? A hundred years ago, if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat unless you could find some church willing to give you a few scraps. A woman needed to marry a good man because she couldn’t support herself or her children. The husband knew that if he didn’t work and he didn’t get paid, his family didn’t eat. Today, when divorces get handed out like Halloween candy, we don’t need each other the same way. Mom can support herself. If dad disappears, the government will make him pay support and whether he does or doesn’t, the government will step in if mom can’t pay the bills. There was a time when unhappy people “stayed together for the kids,” but now more people seem to view staying married as an optional “what have you done for me lately” experience. The surprise isn’t that marriage has fallen apart under these circumstances, it’s that it hasn’t completely imploded.
Yet and still, despite our endless societal complaining, we have it easier than any group of people that has ever existed from the dawn of human history until now. It’s easier to support yourself, to be entertained, and to make a living than it ever has before… yet, this is so miserable for us as a society that we are overdosing on opioids to try to dull our pain and just outright killing ourselves in such numbers that it’s driving down our nation’s life expectancy.
How can that be?
It can be because our society confuses being entertained with being happy. Heaven is sitting on a beautiful beach, getting a massage, and drinking an adult beverage after a year of pushing yourself to your limits. Hell is sitting on that same beautiful beach, getting a massage, and drinking an adult beverage every day for months and years at a time because you have nothing better to do.
Momentary pleasures are not the same thing as happiness, and entertainment is not the same thing as meaning.
If there’s no meaning to your work, no family that needs you, no real-world friends to confide in and share with, no greater purpose to pursue, no new personal heights you’re trying to reach, and no God you believe is giving moral order to the universe, then why are you here? Are you just a locust here to consume the fruit of other people’s meaningful lives until you finally overdose on Fentanyl, or is there a point to your existence?
Happiness is not the comfort, entertainment, ease, and attention that our society pushes; it is growth, meaning, God, and connection. The more people who realize that, the fewer people you’ll see using opioids or killing themselves because life isn’t worth living anymore.