The Happiness Chasm
“Awake, awake, my slumbering child. For beauty exists all around, yet you close your sleepy eyes to the wonders of this life…”
We are brothers and sisters, yet we refuse to look each other in the eye. We no longer say hello on the sidewalk, and we all cloak pain and suffering behind our own walls. We trudge through life, seeking, searching and yearning for more. We wander. We are lost. We are unhappy.
And thus, a crisis looms in the distance, a crisis of happiness.
Geoffrey Moore first introduced the concept of Crossing the Chasm in the technology adoption cycle. This chasm, Moore argues, is where technology goes to die, as it awaits mass uptake from the broader public:
Technology Adoption Life Cycle
I would argue such a chasm exists in our everyday lives as well, and it is a trap so many of us fall into. The reason for our happiness crisis is that we are caught in this concept called the Happiness Chasm. Moore’s curve can be modified and applied to our happiness, which is depicted below:
Happiness Life Cycle
There is a discontinuity in an individual’s understanding of happiness and joy, and in this discontinuity is where many of us in Western society reside for the vast majority of our lives. The chasm exists just after basic human needs are met, where the individual is afforded the liberty and freedom to ponder their own joy. You see, prior to this point on the curve, individuals are occupied with more foundational living requirements.
This happiness crisis we are currently in, exists because most societal advancement has been focused on the left half of the discontinuity. For years, humanity has sought to alleviate discomfort, find more efficiency, and to improve quality of life. The danger with this progression, is that we have been approaching this discontinuity en mass. In theory, the approach taken makes sense; advance society further along this happiness curve, but in reality their needs to exist one of two things:
A bridge, to cross this happiness chasm unscathed. Such a mechanism or mentality would drastically shake society and minimize time spent in the chasm altogether. Although this solution theoretically minimizes the discomfort, it could be argued that some degree of time spent in the chasm is necessary for hardening and perspective, for if you never see the dark how can one truly appreciate the light.
The alternative solution can be thought of as a ladder to escape.
Beyond the chasm lies what a select few in this life have learned to experience. Flow, enlightenment, joy. All of these terms are flavours of the same experience. They are all flavours of capturing this happiness curve.
But again, the problem at hand. You see, even just now we fell in love with this dream of zen, within just a few paragraphs, forgetting the crux of the chasm. Because, you see, what good is this state if our brothers and sisters are falling into the chasm with no tools to escape. So we must, as a society focus on this chasm, we must solve the happiness crisis that our society is battling.
Proving the chasm
In case you are still unconvinced of the existence of such a chasm, let me recount for you a time when each of us were at one point on the right side of it. As children, many of us are born free of life’s burdens. We possess no societal impositions on our hopes and dreams, nor do our minds ponder our existence before or after the moment. As children, we simply are. Every day is a new adventure, each experience is one of marvel. And because of this, we approach each day with a jovial wonder. This is the top of the happiness curve. This is what exists beyond the chasm that so many of us never have the pleasure of experiencing past those long distant childhood memories.
As we grow, life’s harsh realities humble us. Society enforces on us expectations and lies. We are entrusted with life’s burden and the quest of ‘doing something great’. And each of these moments inch us down the curve. They inch us into the chasm, or even before to a state of survival. And with each blow, the mystical wonder of joy fades and recedes into our minds. It remains enough for us all to yearn for that ‘something more’ yet so many of us are left with nothing more than a broken compass to navigate back to this state.
For the remainder of this piece, we shall explore the typical journey of climbing the happiness curve, why we are facing such an imminent crisis, and will conclude with some final musings on the tools necessary for individuals to escape the happiness chasm.
The climb to the chasm
Finding food. Shelter. Disease. One needn’t look far to see many cultures around the world where such a climate exists. In many developing nations, individuals are not afforded the opportunity to ponder these broad philosophical topics of happiness and fulfillment. They need to focus and work diligently each day to survive their climate. There is minimal to no time to worry about the triviality of life, the meaning beyond family and surviving.
As a whole, society has staked a major goal in progressing along this curve to ensure basic human needs are met. And this is a phenomenal and admirable quest, but we must look ahead to the chasm that lurks in the horizon.
The crisis of the chasm
There are experts in this field who claim that we are in the midst of a happiness crisis, as depression rates soar and individuals feel more and more lost. I agree we are in a tumultuous time, however, I fear and warn that we are experiencing just the tip of the iceberg. We have yet to see the ravage suffering that stalks our society if we do not acknowledge and address the happiness chasm.
Society does not have the tools nor the knowledge base in place to serve our communities if we continue prodding ourselves into this chasm. We are at capacity in all respects. Our mental health services are already overwhelmed, and we simply cannot risk pushing more individuals to the brink of their own minds.
And yet, as a society we continue advancing and pushing the masses up this curve. We continue plowing folks off the edge and into this chasm as technology continues to ‘improve’ our lives. But it is a vicious cycle being in this chasm, because it also possesses network effects. Misery loves company, and individuals will continue to seek solace in going through the process with others, yet neither one can spot the ladder out of the chasm.
Instead, we seek distraction and escape from our own minds. We numb ourselves with alcohol and drugs, and need constant captivation. The moment we have space to think, we seek our phones or other screens to yet again drift our mind from this gnawing thought that there is something more. This further pushes individuals into a vicious cycle, further preventing their escape from the chasm of happiness. The time spent scrolling through social media misguides the perception of where the ladder from the chasm exists and further enhances the systemic misunderstanding of happiness and joy. We see a mirage of happiness, molded by the societal implications that first pushed us into this chasm.
And when one does see the way out, they are reminded by all the others in the chasm with them, how they must not take that path as it goes to the unknown, and gives no promise of meeting life's basic needs that until recently were the main occupation of one’s mind.
And so only the brave few, left with no other options, proceed to forge their own ladders out of this chasm, seeking blindly the way back to the path of understanding and joy.
And the journey up this ladder is one of treachery and discipline. It is holding onto a truth that must be there to give life purpose, with minimal to no proof. And this escape more than anything takes a tremendous amount of courage and faith.
The issue here is that we expect the same tactics used to push ourselves to this point to continue working, but they no longer do. We hit the end of the road of life's discomforts and more time, money and pleasure cease to advance us along the curve. This is the right half of the discontinuity and instead we need to employ new tools here.
This point on the curve is a crossroads. Because the typical tactics no longer advance us, there exists a mentality of being stuck and this can translate to two directions:
A desperate attempt to find or build the ladder.
A continual circling of failed attempts leading to further defeat and unhappiness.
That is the grave danger of this happiness chasm and why we must focus on understanding how to build the ladder, and how to teach others to find and build their own.
A path forward
Now finally, these musings would be a pointless attempt without a conclusion of sorts, meant to understand the concept further. After examining this concept at just a surface level, a few conclusions can be drawn.
The chasm is a systemic issue, that is in fact widening.
The chasm exists because our definitions of success and happiness were built on societal foundations that have since changed. They were founded on the ideas of hard work, societal advancement and progression along the curve without the sight of the chasm. Because of this, we have carried these understandings into the chasm without regard for how the scenario is different. We are trying to walk up a hill, when instead we must climb a brick wall.
One must seek to understand themselves to understand their way out.
This wall is one that is different for each individual, but the solution is the same. Before attempting to escape the chasm and climb out, one must first identify the type of escape necessary. We must understand ourselves and see what the impositions are that hold us in the chasm, in order to carve the way out.
Further research into understanding the happiness chasm is critical to humanity’s overall well-being.
As we continue to push society into the chasm it becomes imperative to spend more time researching, and understanding the happiness chasm. A crisis ensues and without adequate understanding of how to address the systemic issue of unhappiness, society will face a large upheaval of understanding.
“... For in opening your eyes, you will see clearly. You will see we are all one, and all seek the same peace and understanding. And it is through this understanding that we will come to support one another, and reach this state together.”