The Happiness Report

Teresa Roberts
10 min readJan 26, 2024

Where Did All the Happy People Go?

Happy home, happy life. (my photo)

Have you ever looked at a friend or a loved one and wanted to wave a magic wand to take away their troubles?

I can’t remember the last time that I sat with a circle of friends who carried on a long conversation about their extreme level of happiness. Maybe I just have “doomy” friends, but we tend to discuss our problems or even world problems. Maybe I need new friends but frankly, I wouldn’t know where to find them.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m a grateful person. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t mention to my husband how lucky we are to have a warm home, plenty of good food, and even a little money left over for a few fun times.

I realize that on my modest income, I’m still in the top ten to twenty percent of the richest people in the world. That’s a sobering fact. Americans are the world’s biggest consumers and we throw away food and other resources regularly without a second thought. Many of us simply cannot gauge our good fortune properly. Yet, I still struggle to find a happy person, no matter how much money they may have.

I just don’t see a lot of happiness in the world.

Even when I express heartfelt gratitude, I often feel like it’s based less on gratitude and more on a sense of deep relief that I’m not experiencing any of the major problems others are dealing with daily. It’s like a giant WHEW. A sense of relief just knowing that if it must happen to someone, I was spared, at least for the time being.

Momentarily, I realized that the sheer luck of the draw was in my favor. I soon forget, however, and can easily become absorbed in my rich girl’s problems.

Why aren’t people happy, I wonder?

When I ask myself that question, I eventually conclude that human beings may be traumatized, suffering from collective PTSD. Hold on. Let me explain.

Our trauma began on the day we were born. Think about it.

Our entry into the world was scary, life-threatening, and ghastly. We pushed our way into the world against all odds, head first down a pathway that was logistically too small for a human head, only to tumble out into a place of bright lights, soaking wet, cold, with loud voices and rough handling.

From the get-go, we were given a sneak preview of what life was going to be like and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Many of us were never protected as children. Instead, we either entered a world where war, poverty, and fear were paramount or inherited parents who were insane and dangerous to our very survival. Nobody has to pass a good parent test first to see whether they qualify. And we don’t get to pick our parents, unfortunately.

Some parents really do eat their young.

Many of parents who manage to keep their offspring alive are mediocre at best. I mean it’s not surprising. They’re often doing their best to cope with the trauma in their own lives from the upbringing they experienced. Family pain is passed down from generation to generation. It’s a guaranteed inheritance so don’t ever say your parents didn’t leave you anything in their will.

We soon discover that life is a series of problems that require our constant attention if we want to survive. Fortunately, most of us are wired to try and survive and many of us manage to do so for quite a few years. That instinct in us is no different than any other animal in the kingdom. It doesn’t make us special. All animals from the smallest to the largest are struggling to live at least long enough to procreate, otherwise a species would go extinct.

Humans are quite a mess. I’ll admit I often find it difficult to admire humanity as a whole.

However, when I’m doing my best to examine our plight in life, I‘m amazed that we do as well as we do. The cards are stacked against us from the beginning, even before we leave the womb to start our miracle lives on this planet.

You see, as we struggle to survive and fulfill our only true task on this planet, produce more life, we are constantly under threat of dying. Death stalks us relentlessly. And I’m convinced that although death is a natural part of life we are wired to try and survive for as long as possible and thus see death as a predator.

The odds are against us and the challenges are unlimited.

The ways that we might die when the Grim Reaper decides it’s our time are horrifying. We don’t just lie down to take a nap and never wake up again. Not most of us at any rate. That would be a merciful gift. Nope! There is an endless list of gruesome possibilities. There are so many freakish diseases and terrifying accidents not to mention being captured by another human and tortured or worked to death.

We all have at least one way of dying that we sincerely hope we never have to encounter.

Would you rather be bitten by a poisonous snake or die of cholera? Or maybe you’d prefer starving to death to dying in a box hidden in someone’s cellar. Oh, that’s right. Humans have been known to kill, torture, and dismember one another as well. Mother Nature isn’t the only one who seems to take pleasure in inflicting pain.

I remember the first time it dawned upon my granddaughter that one day her parents and grandparents would die. She cried. And there was nothing I could say that would be truthful while still relieving her sadness. That’s probably why many cultures came up with a happy ending story to tell their children. Yes, we die but we live on in a better place, we tell our kids. And one day we’ll all be reunited again. The next life will be free of pain and suffering. It will be the life we have all longed for but could never achieve on this planet. One where we can lay our heads down on our pillows at night without fear and sleep the sleep of the truly happy.

Survival is hard work.

Sometimes, if we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize that those who died are the lucky ones, even if there is no heavenly home awaiting us. When my husband was a kid, he asked his dad if they would be building a bomb shelter. A lot of people lived in fear of a nuclear attack in the 50s. Many were digging pits in the ground where they could bury food and supplies in order to survive if the worst came to pass.

My father-in-law looked at my husband and said, “No. You better hope if there’s a nuclear war that you are one of the lucky ones who are wiped out in the few seconds after the bombs are dropped. Life will be unbearable for those left behind.”

Is this article too grim? Why focus on such disturbing truths?

You’re right. Why focus on problems that we have little control over? Most of the time, we do a fantastic job of going about our business of daily life without thinking about the inevitable. We are kept busy solving problems, never-ending problems. Often, we have more than one problem at a time that needs a solution.

Sometimes, we’re confronted with such a massive problem that all the other problems must stay on the back burner until we figure out a way to deal with the massive problem or at least learn to live with it.

Problem-solving skills become our greatest asset. He who can remain pragmatic and think things through not only stands a better chance of solving problems and thus surviving but also stands a chance of not creating new problems for himself. Oh, yes, as though we don’t have enough problems demanding our attention, humans are experts at creating unnecessary problems for themselves.

From the woman who leaves an abusive relationship to hook up with another abuser, to the man who who gets lung cancer from smoking, to the person who squanders money and lives in deep debt, we are quite capable of making life even harder for ourselves.

But if we can keep our heads on straight, maybe, just maybe we’ll beat the odds and live a bit longer with a measure of security.

Maybe. Because you never know what’s around the bend. And, that’s the big unsolvable problem, the one that haunts us. It might even haunt the super problem solver more than the careless, lackadaisical one who never seems prepared for the next problem down the road. We can only plan for so much. Life isn’t designed with our happiness in mind.

No matter how hard we might try to look as far down the path in front of us as possible, we’ll never be 100% safe.

When I look at old photos of families standing in front of their sod home on the prairie or sitting on the front porch of their ramshackle abode, I’m enthralled. The children are often dirty and shoeless. The grownups look old and work-worn. Nobody is smiling. Generally, there’s a passel of kids as well, a stairstep lineup from oldest right down to the baby in mama’s arms. I marvel that anyone survived long enough to give birth.

The average lifespan was about half of what it is today.

What kept these people going? Of course, I know they didn’t expect anything different. That was their normal. Their expectations were most likely far lower than what I have for myself. Yet, they managed to put one foot in front of the other in order to survive. It’s amazing what humans can endure. And although these grim photos portray rugged times, there are worse circumstances that humans are thrust into. Even in modern times, we inflict war upon one another without mercy for the youngest among us.

It seems that war will never become obsolete no matter how happy we claim to be.

We do make some pretty big claims these days. There’s almost a social requirement that we deny unhappiness in any form while raising our expectations for what we deserve in life. Oh, yes, in the United States, the “I-am-worth-it” trend has flourished amongst the general population. Coupled with the narrative that negative thinking is practically a sin, happiness has almost become a commodity. It’s closely attached to materialism which is nothing more than commercialized happiness.

With all the social media outlets available to modern humans, we have become experts at branding ourselves as the happiest people on earth.

But deep down inside, we know we missed the boat. Everyone else on Instagram seems so much richer, more in love, so much more successful than we could ever hope to be. The dissatisfaction is palpable as we seek the perfect marriages, children, houses, jobs, and vacations.

Nobody is what they appear to be, however. Our artificial approach to life has produced a wave of anxiety and depression as we self-medicate to get through the day.

Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, happiness doesn’t exist, at least not in the superficial way we’ve defined it?

If that is true, and I suspect it is, what a disappointment, eh? What other reason will we have to get out of bed if the pursuit of happiness is pointless? As we gain more money, luxuries, and material wealth happiness continues to allude us. There is a never-ending desire to have more. It’s as though we can’t tell when we’re full so we keep eating and eating our way into physical discomfort.

So if happiness doesn’t exist. What else is there?

I think we come back to survival. Despite all our gloss and glamour we’re all just trying to survive. The instinct to survive and procreate is as elemental to human beings as it is to all life in the animal kingdom. Our instincts and our emotions control many if not most of our decisions, not logic. We’ve confused happiness with the guarantee that we’ll survive another day.

This leads me to surmise that we’re at our best when we come together and acknowledge that life is tough and we’re all just trying to survive.

Rather than mock, enslave, ignore, or demonize those in need, we strive to take better care of one another instead. Down through the ages, civilizations have tried to do that with varying degrees of success. However, we’ve still not succeeded in carrying out this worthwhile goal. I think that’s what we should be striving for rather than chasing after the elusive happiness reward.

Can we do that?

Are we capable of shifting our attention away from our personal survival to the well-being of the group? Maybe not. It could boil down to evolution and as a species, we have a long way to go before we can successfully cooperate in order to create a more secure world for everyone. I contend, however, that my sense of personal well-being increases when more and more people’s lives are improved.

Whew! I had no idea that there would be so much to say about happiness when I started this article.

It’s a big topic and I’m not a psychologist so in many ways I’m just guessing at what makes us tick. Nonetheless, I do think about these things regularly as I lay in bed at night trying to calm my feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

So let me leave you with this …

Look at your friend sitting across the table from you. If they seem stressed, neurotic, sad, bitter, angry, or fearful, don’t be so quick to pass judgment. We’re all in this together, and offering a kind hand to others is often the best we can do. Never underestimate the power of kindness. This brings me back to my first question at the beginning of the article.

Have you ever looked at a friend or a loved one and wanted to wave a magic wand to take away their troubles?

Well, we know there is no magic wand, don’t we? All we can offer is kindness, love, understanding, forgiveness, and a helping hand. That’s the one thing we can do, yet there’s not enough of it.

Maybe it’s time to reconnect with those we care about and help each other on this journey for which we were all unprepared.

Teresa is an author and dedicated myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.

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Teresa Roberts

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.