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

The Hedonic Treadmill: A Look at Our Relationship With ‘Happiness’ and ‘Stuff’

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but not stressing about how to pay the mortgage helps.

Read More

How the immune system watches over the brain

Shedding more light on many brain-related conditions, such as autism and Alzheimer's./p>

Read More

22 brain exercises to improve memory, cognition, and creativity

Daily practices or new hobbies. Plenty of ways to flex your mind.

Read More

Depression, anxiety spur pandemic alcohol consumption

Depression and anxiety contribute to increased drinking during the pandemic.

Read More

Long-term, heavy coffee consumption and CVD risk

Too much coffee could take a toll on your heart health.

Read More

Is the Division of Labor Fair in Your Marriage? Here’s How to Figure It Out

Setting expectations about who does what — and adjusting them again and again — is crucial.

Read More

The Essential Role of Sleep in Immunity

Maximizing sleep for defense against COVID and the best vaccine results

Read More

6 Easy Ways to Simplify Your Financial Life

Straightforward ways to master money management.

Read More