Or, as astutely put by comedian James Acaster, it’s jobs, no more jobs, until one day it’s no more jobs forever.
The Smithsonian — filtered through the lens of journalistic hyperbole — reported in 2020 that we are living in ‘historically unhappy times‘. Obviously there are tragic individual events at play here; and perhaps the small contributing factor of, you know, a global pandemic occurring at the time of this research. But one can’t help but question whether a lack of happiness in the modern age may also have more existential origins. As society and technology advance, and evermore Skynet-esque artificial intelligence threatens to take all of our jobs — not in a theoretical-Marxist-utopia way, but in a Thatcher’s-really-shutting-the-mines way — we find ourselves more often interrogating a deeper sense of ‘purpose’ that our Neanderthalic ancestors were too busy hunting antelope and discovering fire to concern themselves with.
Now I’m not advocating for the abandonment of polite society in favour of living off the land and communicating solely in guttural caveman grunts
I, for one, am far too coddled by the modern luxuries afforded by globalization for that. But surely there’s merit in the notion that a simpler life is a happier life. That the constant reaching for lofty, ultimately unattainable goals only serves to foster an endless sense of unfulfilled potential. We’re doomed by a constant pressure to feel ‘productive’, yet as productivity continues to climb to record highs, this productivity only seems to beget a need for — you guessed it — more productivity. If you feel like you won’t truly be content until you learn that language, start your own company and finally put the guitar that’s been collecting dust in your attic to use then I have bad news for you: the four thousand weeks or so of consciousness you have is probably not enough. And in reality, no matter how many weeks you have, the human brain feels hardwired to always desire an ethereal sense of ‘more’.
But there’s an alternative, more optimistic, outlook to this doom and gloom. Jason Isbell’s stellar If We Were Vampires posits that ‘maybe time running out is a gift‘, and I tend to agree. Instead of viewing your life as a ticking clock challenging you to experience everything the universe has to offer before it runs out — and crucially to assign ‘meaning’ to all of it — perhaps there’s joy to be found in the ultimate absurdity of it all.
After all, no matter how many times we see the boulder roll back down the hill in front of us, knowing we’re fated to traipse down after it to begin the cycle anew, what are we to do? Indeed, I see no better option than to live by the mantra of Limp Bizkit’s dudebro-in-chief himself: Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’.
The human brain is ultimately a singular entity, so maybe Buddhists and countless insufferable self-help books are onto something, with the idea that #HappinessComesFromWithin. We’re destined to keep pushing that boulder, even if for no other reason than for its own sake.
So we might as well enjoy it.
Featured image: Limp Bizkit / Wikimedia Commons