The assessment of one’s happiness is a fully Western practice. As a first generation immigrant, the whole notion that one’s level of happiness is worthy of analysis is foreign to me. Where I grew up, there was never an emphasis on achieving happiness. That’s not to say that we were an unhappy population, but that happiness was not a constant agenda item. We didn’t deny the existence of a happiness level; we simply associated it with the West. To reiterate, our association with the West as happy did not prevent us from being happy, but rather it stressed that the West is where one would go in order to truly achieve happiness.
So I came to the United States with that exact expectation. And a few months after my arrival, my expectation was fully met. This truly is a nation in which a majority of the population is constantly striving for happiness. The choices we make as Americans are solely based on how happy the end results might make us. The products that we choose to buy are selected on the basis of how much happiness they will bring to us. The same is true for the music we listen to, the shows we watch, and so forth. And this is all because the American culture places a considerate amount of importance on happiness. American children are taught at a young age to be aware of how happy they are and to strive for happiness.
This is where we arrive at the second part of my observation. We already established that in Western cultures, people are generally more aware of how happy they are, and that happiness is a tool people use to make certain choices about their life. Now I want to shine light on the effect that this culture has on the population. Since happiness is such an important aspect of American life, many have found ways to use happiness as a means to manipulate the public in order to fulfill their own self-interests. That might sound like a radical statement but bear with me. The next time you are forced into watching an advertisement for something, pay close attention to the common theme: happiness. You are essentially being sold products with the promise that the item, whether it is detergent or chocolate, will bring you a step closer to attaining true happiness. X detergent will make your clothes smell so pleasant and feel so soft that wearing them will bring you happiness. X chocolate will tickle your taste buds like nothing you have had before and in turn you will be happier.
If you truly think about it, living in an environment where your happiness is targeted in so many ways makes it impossible for you to actually be happy. After a while, you become too dependent on material possessions to provide one with happiness. And material possessions can never fully satisfy you. If this month product X promised to bring happiness, I can guarantee that in less than a month there will be a new product called XX that will make another promise to provide happiness. Soon, you will become enslaved to the to the consumer culture that has engulfed the United States. And you will remain unaware of the fact that it is American capitalism that has raised you with this awareness of your happiness; not because it cares, but because it needs you in order to thrive.
So I’ve reached the conclusion that the country we most associate with happiness is actually a place where reaching true happiness is next to impossible. And that living in a country in which happiness is not the main focus gives people more of a chance at attaining true happiness. When detergent is sold to you simply as detergent, and not cloaked in an aura of happiness, you are free from the chains of this capitalism. You can search for your happiness not in products but in actions. You can make decisions without being fooled by false promises. And you can be at peace no matter how few possessions you have.
Negin Fatahi is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.