We live in an individualistic, competitive society where ones end goal is to become prosperous and successful. If you fail, you are the problem, and if you triumph, it is trough your unmatched superiorness. We ridicule those who fail and loose while we idolise and worship those in power.
Defenition of Individualism: a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount. Also: a theory maintaining the political and economic independence of the individual and stressing individual initiative, action, and interests.
One of the most significant lessons we learn when we grow up is that we can become whatever we want. Astronauts, soccer players or perhaps YouTube stars. The sky’s the limit! Our dreams usually change a lot throughout our childhood and eventually turn into a longing for success and wealth. A good salary.
The only thing stopping us from achieving our dreams is ourselves. We are living in an age where we are responsible for our success — but also our failure. If we never reach success, we blame it on ourselves and hence lower our self-esteem and harm our mental health.
The notion that “anything is possible” fills everyone with unrealistic expectations. We apotheosize the importance of success to the extent that if we fail, we cannot become happy. Success is, therefore, considered a must-have.
Only up until a few hundred years ago has a happy and “successful” life not been associated with wealth and money. In ancient Greek, philosophers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius lectured that the best lifestyle is a simple one, almost to a point ascetical. Boasting about your wealth and position in society was considered ethically unsound. That way, you had no pressure of becoming “successful” — you could still live a happy and meaningful life.
However, today we live in a capitalist society. Capitalism is an economic system that rewards greed and individualistic behaviour. That makes the economy grow. Our standard of living increase, but at the expense of our mental health (and other things such as climate change and economic inequality).
Do we want it this way?
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
— Jim Carrey
Mental health issues are on the rise. More than 300 million people across the globe are currently battling depression, and an even more significant amount is feeling lonely. According to Sociologist Émile Durkheim, suicides are more frequent in developed, individualistic countries. Additionally, a study by Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet revealed that suicides are most common in rich countries among the poor population. That proves that either failing in our pursuit of wealth and success, or the prevailing economic inequality, makes us unhealthy and depressed.
Lack of belongingness
Individualism gives us the free choice of picking friends, partners, and which community to belong to. You would think this would make loneliness disappear, but that is not the case. This freedom makes us more unique, and we have less in common with the people around us.
The close bond between families, friends and one’s local community that once were so strong, has in this individualistic and secular age almost disappeared. Before, we were raised in big families and were taught the profession of our parents which most likely was farming (The alternatives were not many.) We were raised into moulds and accepted it that way.
Today is different. We are expected to build our own moulds, to construct our own lives. If we end up sad or lonely, it is easy to see why we are to blame. Norms such as how to raise children, whom to love, and how countries should be run have also changed and become less specific.
Thus a lack of belongingness has grown. According to a study made for the publication The Economist in 2018, more than one-fifth of American adults are often or always feeling left out, isolated and/or lonely. Another study reveals that the average American has less close friends today compared to the 1980s.
Before-mentioned Sociologist Émile Durkheim noticed a diminishing sense of belongingness in modern society. As his home, France, in the late 19th century transformed into an industrial, capitalist (and therefore individualistic) country, society became less secularised too. Religion that once offered a sense of belonging and community had been replaced by capitalism that failed to do the same.
Studies show that loneliness is most prevalent among the young. Most of them conclude that Social Media is the fundamental cause of this problem. We compare ourselves with pictures and videos from friends and celebrities, which leads to low self-esteem and a feeling of envy.
We envy others not because our own lives are objectively miserable, but because they are having a better time than us. Or, so it seems at least. People intentionally share moments in their life that contribute to making them seem happy and successful. Their lives are not necessarily better. They only appear so.
A simple solution to mitigate these problems could be to stop using social media. Social media is made intentionally addictive to maximise profit and quitting is, therefore, not an easy task. If they were made for the sole purpose of socialising, there would not be functions such as the infinite scroll and likes.
The result of our individualistic society is that a record amount of people are either depressed or lonely. On top of that, these mental health issues have a profound effect on our physical health, such as insomnia, weight loss or gain, heart diseases, and a cognitive decline. Sometimes it leads to suicide. Resolving these issues must be a priority from now on.
Addressing these issues is essential in getting people to understand the brutal consequences of individualism. Here are some questions that need to be answered when figuring out a better society for all:
- What will create a universal sense of belongingness?
- What will cure our greed for more and make us accept what we already have?
Jakob Wilmer. August 2019