27 Aug Our souls rarely articulate what they must have in order to be satisfied
Aside from the connection it posits between making money and being good, the modern ideal of a successful life imputes a further connection: between making money and being happy.
This idea in turn rests on three assumptions. First, that to identify what will make us happy is not an inordinately difficult task. Just as our bodies typically know what they need in order to be healthy and hence direct us towards smoked fish when they lack sodium or peaches when blood sugar is low, so too, the theory goes, our minds can be relied upon to understand what we should aim for in order to flourish; and so they will naturally push us towards certain careers and projects. Second, that the enormous range of occupational possibilities and consumer goods available in modern civilization is not a gaudy, enervating show responsible for stoking up desires with little relevance to our welfare but rather is capable of satisfying some of our most important needs. And, third, that the more money we have available to us, the more products and services we will be able to afford, and so the greater our chances of happiness will be.
The most suggestive and readable adversary of this group of assumptions remains Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Rousseau began by claiming that, however independent-minded we might judge ourselves to be, we are dangerously poor at understanding our own needs. Our souls rarely articulate what they must have in order to be satisfied, or, when they do mumble something, their commands are likely to be misfounded or contradictory. Rather than comparing the mind with a body correct in its sense of what it should consume in order to be healthy, Rousseau invited us to think of it as being more like a body that cries out for wine when it needs water and insists it should be dancing when it should in truth be flat on a bed. Our minds are susceptible to the influence of external voices telling us what we require to be satisfied, voices that may drown out the faint sounds emitted by our souls and can distract us from the careful, arduous task of correctly tracing our priorities.
Alain de Botton
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