There are times when Jane rises at 6:30 am to make it to her downtown office in Toronto in time for the morning meeting. She's tired. She was up late last night finishing a brief and despite the coffee thermos rattling in the cup holder of her car, she can't seem to peel back her eyelids to stay awake. In the midst of traffic, her mind wanders. Rent. Car Insurance. Overtime. Invoice. Credit card payment.
Is this what life is all about? She wonders. It just seems.... Empty.
Jane doesn't really exist. At least not literally. But I'm willing to bet that more than a few of us have felt this way before. And studies show that the feeling is on the rise. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disease worldwide, and the leading cause in developed countries.
But where has this epidemic of unhappiness come from? Philosopher, Alain de Botton, points out "a sharp decline in actual deprivation may - paradoxically - have been accompanied by a continuing and even increased sense of deprivation and a fear of it." How is it that material wealth has increased simultaneously to a decrease in happiness?
Author Bill McKibben speculates that we are social creatures that are no longer social. In fact, the average American couple spends only 12 minutes speaking every day. Meanwhile, working hours and workplace stress are on the rise. From 1991 to 2001, high stress on the job in Canada is reported to have doubled.
I know what you're thinking - I thought this was the Transition Guelph Blog... Well, it is. The same things that are making the planet sick are making us sick also. Excessive work has fueled our excessive consumption, which has distracted us from a growing emptiness and from failures of personal relationships (which, yes, you got it, was probably caused by excessive work in the first place).
One of the Transition Guelph Green Screen films, The Economics of Happiness, discusses the connections between these issues. The filmmakers write, "Bringing the economy closer to home can not only save us from environmental and economic catastrophe, it can help us to re-discover those essential relationships - both with the living world and with one another - that ultimately give our lives meaning and joy."
The film points out that there's hope yet for all of us Janes. "When people start connecting the dots between climate change, global economic instability and their own personal suffering - stress, loneliness, depression - there is the potential for a movement that will truly change the world."
The Economics of Happiness can be viewed on March 21st at the Guelph Public Library (main branch) at 7 pm.