Are we really the happy Sapiens

There are chorus of voices that are now calling for a replacement of GDP measurements with happiness statistics as the basic economic yardstick. Politics seems to be following this suit. The traditional right to “the pursuit of happiness” is morphing into the duties of the government to ensure the happiness of its citizens. But are we on the “True” pursuit of happiness?

A recent research study that I came across read – With each passing year, our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, whereas our craving for pleasant sensations increases. And this had me pondering. 

That’s when I realized that both scientific and economic activities around us are geared to make happiness and comfort a priority – a number one priority. Producing each year better painkillers, new ice-cream flavors, more comfortable mattresses, and more addictive games for our smartphones, and much more so that we don’t suffer boredom ever and there is a constant secretion of dopamine happening. 

But what we common men fail to understand is, humans are not adapted by evolution to experience constant pleasure, so ice cream and smartphone games will not do. Yet we fall prey. Unfortunately, these distractors were designed to distract us. Apps, video games, series: the people who created them are indeed experts at using “hooks” to activate the dopamine fuelled cravings in our brains. They know exactly how to get us to click the screen just one more time. After all, that was their plan, which worked out great for them! 

But the real question here is, “What is it that keeps us so grooved and addicted to our distractors? And the most important question, “Is it worth it, after all?”

Let’s take phones for instance. Although smartphones are broadening horizons, we see both positives and negatives stemming from this emerging technology. Statistics show that we spend 90% of our media time on mobile devices in apps – be it gaming or social media. And the remaining 10% is spent on the mobile web. 

Every day there is somebody falling prey to this devious gadget – from a teenager to a retired person. Looking at the technology and data, we assume we all feel more connected to each other than ever. After all, we search Google a 2.5billion times and send more than 6 billion text messages every 24 hours. On Snapchat, we share 9000 snaps per second. And all these counts are raising. 

However, other data about people tell a different story. One out of 4 Americans reports struggling with loneliness. Depression is on the raise as a global health risk – predicted to be the world’s second most prevalent medical condition.

When digital transactions serve as a proxy for real-life interactions, we feel invisible and excluded. This became a common phenomenon. And soon there was a word coined to describe this feeling – Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). In 2010, we had this word officially make its way into dictionaries. 

With growing mobile phone and social media usage, we humans learned to feel more motivated to engage ourselves in social media where we ‘feel’ belonged – belonged to some group, event, or even a moment that others are posting about. If this motivation wasn’t attended, we started feeling anxious – anxious about social exclusion, and isolation. This anxiety gave rise to what we termed as FOMO. 

Seems like we humans are extremely good at acquiring new powers, but doesn’t seem like we are good at translating this power into greater happiness. Though there are scientists still working, trying to prove the above with evidence, we know enough that life before the gadgets was more beautiful, conscious, and real. 

As FOMO rivets us to our devices, calling us to document rather than enjoy the moment, we feel more and more alone. The very act of capturing and sharing our moments, direct us toward our tech and away from the only lasting source of happiness – the real world and real people. 

Connecting in real life no longer seems like a simple, natural action as it was once. Well, scan through the queue at the coffee shop and you will see how many people are glued to their phones. Even as they place their order and leave the counter, they forget it even say a “Hello” or a “Thank you” to the person who took their orders. We might think it doesn’t matter. But it does!

A smile at the person on the other side of the counter can make a difference to both you, that person, and also society. Smiles are like a party for the brain. They work to reduce stress and spread happy messages throughout the body and even to those around you. Dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins fire up, triggering relaxation and lowering blood pressure. Both the smiler and the “smilee” usually feel a mood boost.

An eye contact during these few seconds of smile exchange also makes a difference. Researchers have found that people who didn’t receive eye contact, even in casual settings, reported feeling ignored and unseen, a feeling of hurt. If no eye contact can hurt so much, imagine how much happiness it can give if given. 

No wonder our ancestors and theirs were happier and calmer. With more real-life connections, they built relationships on trust and empathy, rather than on display pictures and bios on profiles. With technological advancement, we have forgotten to establish meaningful relationships. And the absence of social connection triggers the same primal alarm bells as hunger, thirst, and physical pain. Thus, decreasing the overall satisfaction and happiness in our lives.


Think about it: do you really need to check your email right now? Do you need to be on social media first thing in the morning? Is it worth it?