Step back for a moment, and ask yourself if you’re happy. Better yet, ask yourself this: “can I be happier?” If you’re a curious little boy, you might ask how the two questions are different, because to you, a person can only be happy or sad. But somewhere in the process of growing, we forget that duality, instead taking into account the nuanced opinions of everyone else. And with that, the potential to be happier lurks in our minds, begging us to spend the rest of our lives trying to be happier again. Even the most left-leaning liberals will suddenly fall into a state of mindless conservatism when faced with this dilemma of lost happiness. Writers will breech the dams of age, harking back to the olden days of nostalgia and innocence, when technology was simpler and days were longer. Certainly the greatest conspiracy of humanity is being orchestrated by all of us, a conspiracy to make the lives of every adult miserable by conflating individual happiness with the perception of happiness, leaving only an obsession with what we don’t have. The past, in fact, was wonderful beyond our wildest imaginations because it was actually real. Yet it ceased to exist precisely because one cannot step out of their time to say “this is amazing, we should stay this way forever.” Which brings us to the impossibility of the predicament we’re constantly in: if we’re three years old, we imagine being a firefighter or a nurse, because we can’t be either. When we’re finally a firefighter or a nurse, we wish for the simplicity of life we had when we were three. Similarly, it is impossible to remove yourself from the culture you’re surrounded by. In a world without firefighters or nurses - a world that has certainly existed - what do the children dream of? Yet despite how unfeasible it is to separate an individual from society, there is a nagging question: how much of our identity is shaped by our acceptance and rejection of society? Just as how historians cannot accurately categorize the impact of current events without the past, we find ourselves comparing our current self with our past, trying to capture our influences, like a historian drawing a line between two eras. So why try to compare either past and present or self and society, if it’s so hopelessly futile? Well, you did. Ask yourself if you’re happy. Then ask yourself if you can be happier. See what you did? How do you know if you can be happier without having a memorable past, or some observation of orgasmic joy? Two people may have two different routes to happiness, but to ask them to compare their level of happiness in their moment of bliss is an exercise for the mind. When a little boy is happy, he is happy. Yet culture has a creepy, parasitic effect in shaping our opinions. In some Native American tribes, the most respected member, the chief, has the fewest possessions. In American culture, those with the most possessions are envied, and those with power are respected. But the worst effects are those that are too subtle to be rejected outright, or too ingrained into our minds for us to reject them at all. Scholars from More to Marx have dreamed of worlds without money, no doubt influenced by foreign cultures who managed to do so. It’s possible that no one disliked any of their high school classes but nobody is willing to admit to it. More subtly, a class may be difficult because you heard it was hard, and, lest you have amnesia, your future opinion is then relative to that single, anecdotal opinion. Unfortunately, it’s an oversight by thousands of years of wise old men that there is no prefix between ‘micro’ and ‘macro’, and thus, no subject that studies the interactions between groups of precisely twenty humans. Perhaps if there was, the previous problem of classes in school being unlikeable would not exist, and we would be on our merry way to being a spacefaring civilization. Then, it wouldn’t matter so much how well the nineteen nearby drivers on the highway drove or how slow the nineteen nearby pedestrians on the sidewalk walked. Culture is too vague and general for us to understand completely, while we’re limited by the small range of our own experiences. There’s a connection between the grand problems of climate change and global recessions, and the minor problems of buying milk and waking up early, but we don’t understand it. It’s trivial to buy milk or sleep earlier, making us momentarily happier, and similarly, the happiness from global events is also momentary. And even though some of those problems are cultural, many of them are simply problems that arise from living, if you’re not aware. Yet the actions and events that makes us happy for longer are more complex and varied, such as the process of making friends. A guide would be helpful, wouldn’t it? Your friends shape your happiness and your view of happiness, yet you selected your friends. That reciprocal relationship leads us to forget its existence, because no matter how hard we look, there isn’t a single cause. So could you be happier with different friends? Possibly. It’s an uncomfortable answer. Of course, being selfish seems to be an appropriate response here, since you can control your own happiness by adjusting your environment to suit yourself. But then there’s no way to know if the happiness is natural or artificial, but then again, you’re being selfish, so you wouldn’t care. Or, you know, we could be children again, turning work into play for fun, sharing our blissful happiness.