Better life

I couldn’t help noticing the US has dropped to fourteenth on the OECD’s Better Life Index, well behind Mexico.  Ironic, I thought, since shops all around are marketing hundreds of ways to ‘fulfill myself,’ ‘realize my dreams,’ and ‘reach my full potential.’ The numbers proclaim this isn’t happening.

I’m inclined to the obvious response: if the US is slipping on an index, that index isn’t measuring the right thing. Clearly Mexico’s tradition of suffering must inspire a popular delusion of self-contentment. Should we be in their spot, we’d be miserable. And so, in fact, must they be. We are, after all, the United States – Best Country in the World.

But I’m troubled by the data. They suggest there’s more to life than what we’re offering ourselves. More, they hint we know it. Dissatisfaction amidst all our prosperity and self-realization makes me uncomfortable.

Back in college, people made a lot of noise about ‘alienation,’ a condition that finds you unhappy because what you’re doing isn’t meaningfully connected to who you are. Like getting paid a lot for a job you hate; knowing you desperately want to get out of the office – you’d rather be running a sandwich shop.

There’s tremendous urgency in our lives now, since we’re at constant war with an invisible enemy. When it looks like we’ve spotted it across our borders, some poor country dominates our attention and fills our headlines. But where, today, are Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Venezuela … Afghanistan?

Meanwhile we know, all of us, the earth is warming beneath our feet. We know we chose, because it’s the profitable thing to do, to keep right on heating it up. Now, we think, ‘we failed to stop it; we’re going to have to kick ass to stay ahead while it happens.’

These aren’t choices we would have made for ourselves. We’re not reporting a whole lot of satisfaction with them.

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