Comparitive failure

After reading a fairly neutral, but informative article on how social inequalities factor in poor health and early mortality, I was amazed to see the vitriol and anger in response in the comments section.

It seems many people are unhappy, cranky and highly intolerant of the deeper rhythms and processes of life. All of which is highly counterproductive -- fighting life, or the essential elements thereof.

In particular was frequent reference to "hard working" people and how they did not tolerate those who were sick or unemployed.

Coincidentally I had been reading an article in the same organisation's other paper The Financial Review. The article (Friday 11th May, 2012) was "The New Isolation" -- a reprint from The Atlantic magazine's article "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?". It contains some good commentary on the increasing rise in loneliness, largely due to our increasing reliance on what I call "surface-layer connections" with other people (by using technology instead of face-face interactions).

Before getting to those comments, it's instructive to review some of the ideas and facts from the article (in The Atlantic):

We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.

and

A 2010 AARP survey found that 35 percent of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, as opposed to 20 percent of a similar group only a decade earlier. According to a major study by a leading scholar of the subject, roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness. Across the Western world, physicians and nurses have begun to speak openly of an epidemic of loneliness.

and (due to the increasing use of technology, and "convenience living")

We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.

and (my bold)

Being lonely is extremely bad for your health. If you’re lonely, you’re more likely to be put in a geriatric home at an earlier age than a similar person who isn’t lonely. You’re less likely to exercise. You’re more likely to be obese. You’re less likely to survive a serious operation and more likely to have hormonal imbalances. You are at greater risk of inflammation. Your memory may be worse. You are more likely to be depressed, to sleep badly, and to suffer dementia and general cognitive decline

Stephen Marche identifies the cause (in effect that the US is culturally in late adolescence - stage 3)

The history of the United States is like the famous parable of the porcupines in the cold, from Schopenhauer’s Studies in Pessimism—the ones who huddle together for warmth and shuffle away in pain, always separating and congregating. We are now in the middle of a long period of shuffling away.

...

Our omnipresent new technologies lure us toward increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment that they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy.

...

Most goals in life show a direct correlation between valuation and achievement. Studies have found, for example, that students who value good grades tend to have higher grades than those who don’t value them. Happiness is an exception. The study came to a disturbing conclusion:

Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness, the lower were their hedonic balance, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction, and the higher their depression symptoms.

The more you try to be happy, the less happy you are. Sophocles made roughly the same point.

Which brings me back to those unhappy souls on the Sydney Morning Herald site.

They're so busy (comparing themselves to others, to how good they are relative to all those irresponsible souls who don't "work hard") that they've not realised it's precisely their comparisons that are causing them to feel like they've got a bee in their brains. It's precisely because they feel they must work hard, and not let go and live with ease and peace.

It seems easier to blame others, but ultimately it only makes us feel powerless ("they did it to me"), dissatisfied and unhappy.

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