When Pharrell Williams’ hit single “Happy”was released in November of 2013, it became an international sensation in no time. It flooded the airwaves on radio stations everywhere, boasting both the world’s first twenty-four hour music video and a myriad of other tribute videos from all around the world. A few months later, the song resigned from its pop culture throne as all pop songs eventually must—but for what felt like ages, all nations and peoples seemed to find solidarity in their love of the truly happy hit single.
There are the obvious answers, of course, common to any song that’s managed to go viral, like a catchy beat, fantastic vocals, and an inherent feel beyond the boundaries of words that allowed it to transcend language and find a special place in the heart of any of its listeners. But there is something else, something special about “Happy” that set it apart from its fellows: it caters to a society and civilization whose scarcest resource is not food nor water nor order in the court, but instead the much more quintessential commodity of happiness.
People nowadays are not happy. We never have been, really, speaking in general terms—after all, overcoming suffering is a goal and cornerstone of most of the world’s religions and philosophies—but now we’re worse off than ever. It can be seen in our pop culture which has, in a span of less than a hundred years, rejected the selfless heroics of Superman for the brooding and battered vigilantism of The Dark Knight. The colors and fanfare of a warmer age have faded down to the electric beats and faded grays of the twenty-first century. People no longer debate; they argue. People no longer ask; they demand. People no longer support; they follow. Why?
The answer, or at least the answer as I discern it, lies in an interest in the self above all else, of the man who is not an island made at once to rise solipsistically out from the black seas of infinity. Ours is a bleaker world than the world before it. Perhaps this is simply the world in its truest form, finally free of the illusions that have, in centuries past, made it just more palatable—indeed, it’s no challenge to go any time period in human history and find at least one man or woman who thought the whole affair was absolutely pointless. What’s different in the world as we have made it is a change in the philosophy. Gone are the family values of the twentieth century, gone are even the cultures of other lands, conglomerating slowly into a global unit whose citizen and prized possession is the human self. It is down this path, the path of the exultation of the individual, that we have found our current state.
As aforementioned, most of the world’s religions prescribe abatement of self as a cure for the suffering of the world. In our world, religion is a relic—an industry of illusion from an age of simpler beings. Over the centuries, even religion itself has become inundated with the self, and it is unfortunately true that there is no faith not guilty of horrible violence. But outside the lens of religion, we have created new devices by which to flee from the chaos of the human race outside and burrow deep holes into our inconsistent selves. Nowadays, mass media and the Internet allow any person with access to a computer the same platform as any other regardless of means, intent, talent, ignorance, sagacity, or anything else. As a consequence thereof, it seems to many that because their voices can be heard, their voices matter. Fervor has scared away tolerance. Conflict has scared away compromise. The arrogant id has instructed the omnipresent superego to kindly bugger off.
This is the root of the problem.
It is no longer so important to be compassionate as it is to be impassionate. We shame that which is without ourselves and we roar like beasts at those things which lie outside our understanding. Ours can be the only true path, because otherwise we’d have to break off and analyze some part of the gorgeous self we think we know. And why should we have to do that?
It is why we see so many broken relationships. Love and sex and affection and courtesy are now things to be effortlessly expected. In our own hands, they become serrated weapons with which to dominate the minds and bodies of human beings, men and women alike. These are life’s most beautiful experiences and we have skewed their forms into commodities of power. How can we seek happiness with another when we have made means to an end of the entire human race?
Social media is certainly no help, and as the years progress I doubt that the “social” component of its title should not have become completely vestigial by now. Young people in our society are flocking from Facebook, once the unrivaled titan of the social media environment, and instead taking roost in the likes of Twitter and Instagram. “Friends” are now “followers,” no longer confidants and fellows but instead the pilgrims that tend to our temples. We as a society are approaching a state of cosmic isolation, where the action of exchange is not congratulations but instead worship. As long as we have made up our minds, then nothing else matters—we have made ourselves so strong and so immune to the hate of others that we can no longer think to reach out and consider that which lies outside our own approval.