Why People Are Discontent With Their Life?
The Freudian perspective on the reasons for unhappiness amongst the people
At an early stage of development, the actions of an infant are controlled by its instinct. Try snatching a rattle from its hand, and it will come at you with force to take it back. A one-year-old toddler does not think twice to latch at its mother’s breast when hungry. It cannot differentiate between the self and the outer world as it is driven by pure ego and wants. Freud defines this phenomenon as infantile narcissism.
As the child grows, it develops an understanding between the self,i.e. his pure instinct, and the objective world. It comes to terms that it cannot drive itself purely by desires, as it has consequences attached to it.
The Pleasure Principle
Humans have an innate pursuit to satisfy all of their desires and cravings without a shred of consideration for the outer world. The whole purpose of life, as claimed by Freud himself, is the programme of the pleasure principle. That is nothing but to derive as much pleasure by fulfiling the desires. As explained in the earlier example, a toddler has no regards for the outer world, but to focus only on its needs.
But when the self comes to terms with reality, i.e. the outer world, it causes anxiety and depression. Now, the self here, gradually understands that the world cannot run as per its whims and fancies. So to reduce anxiety it must avoid the displeasure caused due to non-fulfilment of its demands. The self attempts to suppress its wants partially or totally.
Defence mechanisms to counter the miseries of life
Human beings try to avoid their suffering by deploying the three methods as a cure.
- Deflection — We redirect our focus towards professional achievements that are more connected with reality. A sense of accomplishment in a career can reduce the plight of existence. As Voltaire said, ‘Cultivate your own garden.’
- Substitutive satisfactions — Escaping from the real world to satisfy your wants in an illusional world. The modern world operates on fulfilment through fantasy. Watching pornography is one such phenomenon that people escape into to satisfy their sexual desires. Religion also works in a similar fashion where people transcend to a fantasy world in the quest for a guiding light.
- Intoxicating substances — Turning towards alcohol and hallucinogens to alter the brain chemistry. It is one effective but temporary way to suppress emotions. It has a calming effect on the mind because it delays the sorrow that causes turmoil.
What causes suffering?
There are three main sources that can cause displeasure.
- Body — The mortal nature of the human body and the pain it has to endure during the lifetime. It could be in the form of disease or an injury.
- Nature — It has the power to cause catastrophes that can cause irreversible damage to humankind. The entire human race stands helpless against a natural disaster.
- To exist with other human beings — The social obligation to co-exist with other humans is perhaps the biggest form of suffering as regarded by Freud. The primary struggle of human beings revolves around the pleasure-seeking self and the society that tries to curb it and puts limitations.
The first two sources are beyond the control of humankind. The third source seems within our control, but the social relations exist beyond pure reason. The human instinct has a role to play.
Homer’s epic is a prime example of human instinct at play. Paris, a young prince of Troy, falls in love with Menelaus’ wife (Menelaus is the king of Sparta). He cannot let go of his wish to be with her. So he smuggles her from Sparta in the homebound ship along with hundreds of other ships that sail towards Troy. Menelaus feels humiliated and asks his brother Agamemnon for help to get his wife back. They declare war and sail towards Troy with an army of thousands to seek revenge for Menelaus’s humiliation.
Paris knew all the consequences that would follow for his misdeeds. But he was driven by his want to be with Helen. The result was thousands of men dying for one person’s urge to seek pleasure.
Why Civilization exists?
To avoid the conflict that can be detrimental to human existence is a primary aspect of Civilization. It serves the purpose of the peaceful co-existence of human beings.
Imagine a world without a social order that defines the various aspects of life. The world will descend into chaos without an effective system that governs us.
The achievements in the fields of science and technology have been a boon to humans. Civilization has helped us to lead comfortable lives, which is also one of the goals. It has facilitated the convenience of executing tasks. We no longer have to hunt for food with a spear in our hand facing the perils of wildlife. A visit to a grocery shop once a week is all you need to put the food on the table.
Apart from the basic needs, it also appreciates the beauty and luxury that is utterly useless but pleases our senses.
Why does Civilization cause discontent?
As paradoxical it may sound. Civilization, which is supposed to alleviate the suffering, becomes the cause as well. An individual has to restrict himself to maintain the peaceful existence of humankind. An individual has to give up the pleasure-seeking activities that can cause him distress. Civilization puts limitations on our desires. The self (instinct) has to compromise on his pleasure principle and shun its wants. Therefore, it ends up becoming the source of our discontent.
If we take the example of Troy as discussed above. Paris will have to sacrifice his desire to elope with Helen to maintain peace between Troy and Sparta. It will avoid bloodshed between the two kingdoms and save thousands of lives. They have to give up their feelings for each other for the greater good. But on the other hand, they will end up being discontent, because they had to sacrifice their happiness.
Civilization restricts our instincts to translate into action. It puts limitations on our sexuality and forces us to self-censor. For instance, seeking sexual gratification from your sister-in-law is considered to be taboo. In order to avoid conflict in your relationship with your brother, you will have to suppress the thought of seeking sexual relations with her. Even a flickering notion of having sexual relations with your brother’s wife induces a sense of guilt.
Although Civilization has its benefits, it comes with the cost of individual suffering and discontent as it limits our desire to seek pleasure.
Source for the article,
Originally published at http://puckfositivity.wordpress.com on May 22, 2021.