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Happiness vs. Evolution: Why Making Meaning Means More Than Feeling Good
Gail Whipple, MTP ACC

So many first-world people like me are consumed with the pursuit of happiness, where many other-world people are consumed with just staying alive. I’ve often thought if I were a woman in a refugee camp, I would be so upset to know there are folks in the world with SO MUCH and they aren’t even happy with it. But the more I think about it, people who are disempowered don’t need us to be happy. They need us to evolve.

The happiness thing is an easy sell, so believe me, it gets sold. The spiritual ideal of happiness may come out of eastern culture yet it has lost much of its meaning at the hands of western marketers. So chances are, pursuing that picture of happiness will not bring you happiness. Why? Because the job of being alive is to evolve. Doing that job well brings us at least fulfillment, at best peace, and it brings the world to new depths, heights and possibilities.

Evolution brings the hope that we may all make the quantum leap from self-interest to self-actualization, instead of reserving that stage for a select few sages we look up to. We’re in the second act of our particular time with all the universe watching the drama unfold: Will they learn to co-exist or will they destroy everyone and everything? Will they give up being violent with one another and learn to just be with one another?

In other historic times the dramatic question has been different. When the myth of Hercules took center stage the dilemma was, can humankind be stronger than the struggle and death that is all around? In Gilgamesh’s time it was, can humankind build something — say the first City — something that leaves a legacy instead of life just being dust to dust? In the time of Jesus it was, can an individual exercise moral freedom even though the ruler/gods and the tribe wills it otherwise?

There’s always a central creative theme of evolution at the core of the heroic myth, which is always at play in a creative universe. While former iterations led us to a shared value of acting with strength, building legacy and demanding freedom, today we’re being called to add compassion to the script. Our time on stage has all of these former lessons of human development packed into the action: Will the actors learn to be strong enough to love one another more than death? Will they learn to leave a legacy that is beyond the material? Will they—having secured their own freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness—learn to help others secure theirs?

Or will they just pursue happiness?

If we don’t evolve purposefully and positively, if we don’t make meaning of our lives, our time on the universal stage will end, and we will have been a mere curiosity, just as the dinosaurs are today. What did they look like? How did they survive, how beastly were they, and how smart?

But if we do evolve, if we do live into our creative and heroic potential, we have the chance to fulfill all the heroic and creative stages that have played through the human experience: We will live on as did Hercules, we will leave a legacy as did Gilgamesh, we will distinguish ourselves as loving spiritual beings as did Jesus, and perform stunning acts of compassion that will move us beyond the killing fields of overwhelming materialism.


Copyright.  Gail Whipple, MTP ACC.  All rights reserved.

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