Jackson Kerchis

Mar 3, 2022

To Understand Happiness You First Have to Know that We Aren’t Made to Be Happy

I stared out the window on a grey, midwestern February.

A bird danced through the air. I remembered the bible verse about how the birds of the air neither sow nor reap. And the wild animals don’t toil. They get along just fine.

What would it be like to have the experience of a bird or a deer?

As I imagined, I realized something about happiness. We’re not meant to be happy – we’re mean to be stay alive.

To be an animal – say a deer – would probably be rather neutral. You have the little highs of being safe in your herd and finding a nice of patch grass. And you get the occasional rush of seeing a predator.

But most of the time you’re coasting along at neutral.

As I reflect on my hypothetical deer-self I see that the good feelings are in response to things that keep me alive and the bad are in response to dangers.

Is the human who hunts the deer any different? What troubles him? And what satisfies him?

There’s suffering – pain of hunger, fear of predators, and stress of social status. And there’s pleasure – killing a deer, bathing in the creek, and having sex.

For a moment I see things clearly. All this life is one big arrangement to keep the species living. If you think of it as a video game. Nature has no interest in your user experience – all that matters is to keep you playing the game.

Our brains and our natural world are co-conspirators. Nature has evolved our brains to feel just enough pleasure from survival to make us want to carry on and tremendous pain from dangerous things to make sure we avoid them. We are made for survival not for happiness.

This realization is a sort of prerequisite to understanding happiness and the human condition.

If you see things this way life will make more sense.

Jackson Kerchis

I'm a former startup executive and zen monk. And I created the first Happiness Studies degree. I speak, write, and teach about happiness in work and life.