Rambling Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness and Social Validation

At first glance, a lot of what we do in this life seems to be for ourselves. We claim to follow our dreams, wishes and desires. We say we make goals that are about our happiness and fulfillment, but at the end of the day why is that so many of those things seem to take the form of what other people think is right, correct or successful? Before I shut any ears to what I am trying to find a way to say, let me clarify. I am not trying to devalue or criticism anyone else’s sense of happiness or fulfillment.

If your goals and achievements happen to coincide with those things society and peers approve of, appreciate and consider valuable, then, on the contrary, you have my admiration. Personally, however, when I scratch the surface of most of these pursuits, I find this conjunction of events to be rarer than we like to acknowledge.

Ok, now that the garbled introduction and nebulous disclaimers are done… Have you ever found yourself wanting to do something with your life that isn’t quite in line with what other people respect? For those friends and associates of mine that aren’t part of the geek subculture, I’ll choose an examples that might be easier to relate too.

You decide that you want a scale replica of Stonehenge in your backyard. Instantly, several judgements and values will be assigned to your idea (not to mention its actual undertaking).

  • This person is a “new age nut job”.
  • Why not invest that time/effort into a new kitchen (even if your cooking is relatively undemanding).
  • Do you have any idea how this will affect your house values?

I think we try to shape our pursuit of happiness into forms and results that other people will acknowledge and recognize, and in doing so we are actually pursuing their approval and recognition instead. While that is a form of happiness, I suppose, I don’t think it is sustainable and I think it fosters unnecessary competition and conflict (keeping up with those Jones, being the classic example).

Stripped down to its core, the counter argument is a simple one. We are social animals and all but the most ardently independant of us essentially live in a complex and interdendant network of economic, social and ph
ysical dependancies. That being the case, don’t we have an obligation to be acceptable participants in that relationship? And what does that acceptibility include? Tolerable presence, non-harmful interaction, responsible use of community assets, basic courtesies, due respect for others. All rugged individualist rhetoric and knee-jerk fears of anything with a hint of socialism aside, are those really that unreasonable?

I can’t help but think that there is a potential balancing act here, but as things stand the border on the side of what we do to impress others and socially validate ourselves is far more intrusive than we like to admit, particularly as a nation that claims to be so individual and free.

Just something to think about the next time we decide that the neighbor’s pink lawn flamingos are an crime against humanity or that guy biking to work is a nut.



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