Feature article of Martin Fluri published in the Danish national newspaper Information (translated from Danish)
Op-ed August 28th 2019 in Information
The pursuit of happiness has become a threat to our own existence
For 30 years, I myself was caught up in the belief in the false ideal of permanent happiness. Our eternal pursuit of happiness brings our actions and lives into conflict with life itself, writes sociologist Martin Fluri in this op-ed.
The religious and spiritual traditions claim that they can show us the path to an eternal blissful state. In reality, this state does not exist, but our entire society is built on the idea of happiness, and we all keep searching for it, whether we are believers or not.
This is the cause of our insatiable desire for more, and this is what has created the human and environmental disasters we are facing today.
My entry into the spiritual world was a psychedelic experience I had almost 30 years ago. I had consumed magic mushrooms and had a stronger experience of joy and connectivity with life than ever before.
Subsequently, my normal life seemed dead and uninteresting. Life did not seem worth living unless I regained contact with the life energy I had experienced on my mushroom trip.
I was convinced that I had come into contact with something that was real and that it had to be possible to make this experience permanent.
Since more psychedelic drugs did not seem to be the solution, I started looking for someone who could tell me what else to do to achieve this.
The only place I could find satisfactory answers was with the spiritual and religious traditions.
Virtually all of them stated that they knew the way to a lasting state of peace, joy, and togetherness with an omnipresent consciousness or God. It was something like that I was looking for, and I therefore threw myself headlong into the spiritual world.
In the following decades, I studied all kinds of spiritual and religious teachings, meditated my butt off, and spent over ten years as a devoted disciple in a new age cult. During that time, I had countless experiences similar to the one I had on my mushroom trip, but they always came to an end.
A couple of years ago it suddenly dawned on me that what I had been chasing for all these years does not exist. It was obvious in such an unmistakable and clear way that I could in no way go back to the spiritual world.
The notion of happiness
Over time, it became clear that what had initially led me to believe that my psychedelic experience could be found in reality, was that I had always been convinced that I could and should find some different and better state.
I began to see how this belief came from the cultural values I was brought up with and that they are a product of the Christian worldview and its lofty claims that we can achieve eternal happiness and peace.
All the cultures of the world are derived from religions and spiritual traditions that promise us that they can lead us to ultimate happiness. Although Karl Marx said religion is opium for the people, his own ideals were a product of the same notion of future happiness.
The idea that a truly blissful state exists, and that our lives are about achieving it, has been maintained and preached by holy men and women for thousands of years.
In secular societies, this conviction is today carried on by psychologists, mental trainers, politicians, philosophers, business gurus, scientists and other oracles of the modern world. Today they are also assuring us that some version of the permanent state of happiness exists and that their knowledge and methods can help us achieve it.
It dawned on me that it was not just me who had been caught up in the belief in happiness. We are all subject to the belief that a different and happier state really exists and that achieving it is what life is about – whether we are religious, spiritual or not. At least I have never met anyone who was not.
For many westerners, it is no longer God we seek, but instead we strive for some kind of lasting joy, well-being and meaning.
Happiness itself has become the new religion in secular societies of the western world.
When global happiness surveys are made, my home country Denmark can take pride in the fact that it is often the one who scores highest and therefore comes closest to the non-religious happiness God.
The problem is that we are promoting and chasing something that does not exist.
Life – including the emotional states in our own bodies – is constantly changing and moving, and there is really no permanent state of anything.
Most of us know this deep down, but our belief in happiness is so central to our culture and identity that we cannot help seeking it.
For much of the world today, our pursuit of happiness is centred around improving our material circumstances. We are not content taking care of our basic survival needs, as we were in the dawn of time, because we are now convinced that happiness is the meaning of life.
But no matter how much we accumulate of what we believe will bring us happiness, we will never find it. It is this insatiable pursuit of more that moves human civilization farther and farther out to the edge of the abyss.
One big ego trip
Man’s relentless pursuit of happiness means that our actions and way of life are fundamentally in conflict with life. It applies to all of us, even the most sustainable and climate conscious among us.
Our pursuit of this non-existent goal means that we act on a false understanding of life and this will inevitably create more problems for ourselves and our world.
Many spiritual seekers believe that their seeking is for the good of the world as it gives them greater love and care for everything around them. That was also my conviction throughout the 30 years I spent on the spiritual path.
I had learned that I could only get rid of my ego if I was humble and wanted to help others, so that was the motive I was trying to show to the outside world and myself.
Eventually, however, I had to acknowledge that I had always primarily been interested in achieving the goal I had been promised.
My search for absolute joy and togetherness, which I had learned that the death of the ego would give me, was in reality the ultimate ego trip.
It is the same kind of pretense the religious and spiritual traditions have been created from. They sought to conceal their more selfish motives under the claim that they had altruistic and charitable intentions.
Their success is based on their promise that they could show us the path to a state of eternal bliss, for who would not want that?
Whether coming from secular or religious communities, we are still all looking to get as close as possible to permanent happiness.
Paradoxically this search has now taken on such a destructive expression that it is becoming a threat to our own existence. What a terrible mess, religion and spirituality has brought us.
Martin Fluri is a sociologist and author of the book The Anti-Teachings, which is due out in September 2020.