Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Is Technology Destroying Happiness?


Mar. 7, 2017 Big Think

Alongside the rights to life and liberty, crafters of the United States Declaration of Independence added a third: the pursuit of happiness. Historian Yuval Noah Harari writes that happiness itself is not an inalienable right—the pursuit of it is. Semantics matter. 

In Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harari picks up where his last book, Sapiens, left off. Happiness is an important theme as it has become one of the most elusive emotional conditions of our era. While Americans often consider it to be a default setting, Harari points out that initially happiness was introduced as a check on state power. 

He writes a society built on the right to make your own decisions in the “private sphere of choice, free from state supervision” was the intention behind Jefferson and crew. Over the last few decades, however, Americans have turned more toward British philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s demand that the sole purpose of the state, financial markets, and science “is to increase global happiness.” 

But we’re not happier. In many ways we’re more distraught than ever. This counterintuitive condition makes no sense of the surface. Harari notes that in ancient agriculture societies 15 percent of deaths were caused by violence; during the twentieth century that number dwindled to 5 percent; and now, over the last seventeen years, we’re at 1 percent, which made him realize, “sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”

Technology alone is not to blame, as in many ways our uneasiness with our condition seems an old trait. The human nervous systems is wired to be on constant alert for threats in the environment. Given how few we encounter on a regular basis, this threat detection system has been co-opted by the luxury of security, causing Harari to realize that:

The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.

And we’re good at more. Since the fifteenth century an increasing desire for goods has taken root in societies across the planet. America is usually targeted as the primary driver behind unnecessary purchasing, though history professor Frank Trentmann points out a trifecta of “comfort, cleanliness and convenience” that took root centuries earlier in the Netherlands, Italy, and China, the latter which he calls a “proto-consumer culture.” 

Read More on Big Think

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

What Happy People Do Differently

Behavior changes can lead to sustained happiness.

Read More

7 Ways to Get Yourself Unstuck

Start moving in the right direction.

Read More

Why Conflict Is Healthy for Relationships

Three tips to communicating consciously in conflict.

Read More

Sub-Concussions: A Threat to Brain Health

Frequent non-concussive head impacts may be doing more damage than previously thought.

Read More

Why Most Leaders Fail

Another insightful piece by former player, and leadership coach, Freddie Scott, II.

Read More

Financing College: Free Money

The second part in our series with partner Penn State World Campus looks at financing options without repayment.

Read More

Exercise is contagious, especially if you’re a man

Get around people who work out to find motivation.

Read More

Paying it Forward: Buddy Curry

Paying It Forward showcases the work of charitable organizations supported by the PAF.

Read More