Existential Psychology

High Standard Of Living And Existential Vacuum

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There’s a powerful societal expectation that increasing material wealth is the key to happiness and fulfillment. But we only need look around us to see the fallacy of this notion. In the West most people enjoy a standard of living beyond what previous generations could have imagined but they’re not happy.

If you think that more wealth is going to make you happy think again. A psychological reason why is that as biological organisms we seek to find some sort of equilibrium with our environment; as intelligent organisms we do this by changing our perceptions and expectations to fit the situation. This is how humans are able to live under the most varied conditions. What starts out as unusual quickly becomes the norm, assuming conditions aren’t so aversive, like abject poverty or extreme hunger, that they can’t be ignored.

But most of us are confronted with baseline conditions where we aren’t lacking anything essential for our basic needs, we just want more. What happens is that once this more is attained, we adjust our perception to it and the situation once again becomes normal, just the same as it was before in the psychological and emotional sense.

And this is why existential vacuum is a stark reality in our modern world. People hope for fulfillment by walking down a path that can never give it to them. A sense of emptiness sets in as the promised happiness and fulfillment never come despite increasing material wealth. Actually when all your material needs are met you’re more exposed to existential vacuum not less, because you have the free time to start asking the difficult questions about your human existence, about meaning, about your place in the cosmos, questions that wouldn’t pop up if you were struggling, but basically succeeding, just to survive.