The religion of the rebel and the pursuit from happiness

Image: Søren Astrup Jørgensen

I often wonder why we’re such a depressed, anxious culture here in the west.

We have so much. We have clean water, amazing WiFi, central heating, indoor plumbing, and every song and movie ever produced at our fingertips for the price of a hamburger or two a month.

We can swipe left or swipe right for hookups at-will.

We hardly ever fix our cars anymore because they just… Run. Soon, they’ll drive themselves.

If we look at the data, we see that poverty, child labor, food costs, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, homicide, violent crime, and Guinea Worm (yes, Guinea Worm) are all decreasing.

But, at the same time, more Americans than ever before are stressed, depressed and anxiety-ridden.

A little Medium post doesn’t do this subject the justice it deserves, but here’s my nacho-sized idea (which I’m merely playing with — so have fun with me here) of why this might be so.

It has to do with one of our core tenets as Americans…

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness. 
That’s the one they should have expanded on, right there.

We Americans, at our core, are chasing a utopia of ‘happiness’ — in whatever form that may take for us on an individual level.

Looking at the data, we’ve done an incredible job creating a fucking fantastic world. But we’re emotionally, spiritually, and physically killing ourselves while we’re at it.

I believe it’s unnecessary. We should be absolutely ecstatic right now.

Allow me to edit this in the Constitution (if any of you have any connections in DC, let me know)…

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit FROM the idea of everlasting happiness.

If you’re reading this and were raised in the US or have lived here for any length of time, you’ve been in a culture that’s beyond wealthy, in the sense of what’s available to even the poorest of us on a material level.

We live in the Garden of Eden. We really do. But is this a good thing?

Depends… Adam and Eve was a symbolic story that serves us perfectly if we could see it for what it is.

The serpent is the idea in our head that says, “If you do X,Y, and Z, you’ll be whole and complete.”

But every single time, when we pursue and get that thing the serpent in our mind tells us to get (and in America, we usually do), we may find ourselves totally stoked at first, but eventually, ‘life happens’. Always does. And the serpent returns. And moves the carrot out further.

The religion of rebels

So how do we get around this? How do we find freedom FROM the pursuit of everlasting happiness in the world?

To illustrate this, I’ll share an example of three types of religion...

1.The religion of the conservative is based on the reality principle. It says that you can get rid of anxiety by removing yourself from desire and leaving the world the way it is.

2.The religion of the revolutionary is based on the pleasure principle. It says that you can get rid of anxiety by getting and having everything you want by creating a sort of utopia.

What I’m interested in is the religion of the rebel.

3.The religion of the rebel takes the vigor of the revolutionary and mixes it with the pragmatism of the conservative. Members of this religion say we’re going to constantly work for a better world and more fulfilling life, but we know there is no such thing as a utopia. In fact, we say that a utopia would actually be hell for a human. (Eternal happiness? How… vanilla. And monotone. Ugh…)

When we believe in a utopian endgame…

We believe there’s a President who can bring it to us.
Or a drug.
Or a zip code.
Or a prayer.
Or a partner.
Or a food.
Or a look.
Or a bank account size.

But the rebel realizes that it’s all an illusion. That all of these are false idols and none of them will succeed in bringing us everlasting happiness.

However, instead of getting depressed and defeated (and turning to the above things in a co-dependent way), the rebel sees the perfection in this.

The rebel finds wholeness and perfection in both the struggles AND delights of being a divine human. The rebel enjoys and accepts the full spectrum of emotion and finds happiness that she’s alive one more moment to experience the depth of them.

When the rebel does this, he doesn’t stack on extra layers of frustration, anxiety, and “Oh shit, my spirituality isn’t working” on top of the situation when things get hairy. He lets himself feel. And be. And he lets it pass. And he enjoys the sunset afterwards.

And so, in the spirit of looking at the world through the lens of a rebel…

Let’s keep envisioning a brighter future. But let’s also know life is in a constant state of unfoldment.

Let’s keep praying for the best. But let’s also know that there’s never an ending to creation.

Let’s keep serving others. But let’s also know that ours is the work of a lifetime — or many.

When we take out the idea of a utopia of happiness, we take the pressure off of our spiritual faculties and have fun with them. We know we’ll always be working to create a better world, but we also know that when this world comes, another grander one will be waiting for us to get started on.

It’s then that we’ll be free from the pursuit of happiness.

And then, maybe we’ll be happy in all of it. 
Free at last.

Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.