There are times when life is sad, tragic and seemingly hopeless.
But at the end of the day there’s also a lot of joy and hope in our existence.
These days you often hear that the world is going downhill fast and everything is getting worse.
But looking at history it’s clear that many things are not necessarily “worse” than they were in past ages by any means…
So why are our television screens flooded with negativity, horror and sadness?
Why do we stop and fixate on the bad and ignore all the good?
Why is society so obsessed with despair?
7 reasons why society is sinking into sadness
1) Consumer society + individualism = emptiness
There’s nothing wrong with wanting nice things and caring about yourself. In fact, I’d argue that without this we disrespect ourselves and lie to ourselves.
The problem is that anything taken to an extreme starts to cause problems.
You can die from drinking too much water!
So as nice as it is for many of us to live in modern, developed nations where we’re free to do our own thing and buy new shoes on Saturday, it’s also very possible to overdose on commercialism and being alone.
We keep buying to feel better, and keep feeling worse because society seems to have no real goal…
Except earning more money to cover up the emptiness of feeling like we’re not part of anything real or meaningful.
“Ever-growing consumerism, commercialisation and the ultra-individualisation of people, have made people unsatisfied,” writes Wafa Buriro.
It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one of the top reasons why society is so obsessed with despair.
2) Tragedy and disaster gets more clicks
Another one of the reasons society is obsessed with despair is that it sells.
As sick as it is, many people who feel empty or lost get addicted to the cheap wine of tragedy, not only in their own life but also in the lives of others.
How many times have you seen an online news blurb with horrible news about a celebrity or public figure and clicked it out of morbid fascination.
Remember just recently when actor Alec Baldwin shot two people by mistake on a movie set? The internet was ablaze with mockery, sadness, speculation and shock.
Everyone wanted a piece of the surprise and outrage. They clicked, and advertisers profited.
The sick truth is that tragedy and disaster get more clicks and are easier to generate a quick buck from.
3) Everybody wants to get rich quick and live a perfect life
Another one of the really big reasons that society has become so obsessed with despair is that we’ve been sold on a false vision of happiness.
We want quick fixes, superstardom, wealth and ease.
We want perfect lives like what we see on the movies and when they don’t happen our entitled victim mindset becomes enraged.
Hard work and doing jobs we don’t want? Why should I!
Well, a healthy sense of boundaries and standards is great, but when it verges into full entitlement and self-pity it can have disastrous consequences.
The fact of the matter is that modern society is becoming more and more entitled and convinced that having it easy should come quickly and with minimal effort.
The new South Korean Netflix series Squid Game typifies the kind of despair that’s taken over modern society and our continuing fascination with dystopian, heartless scenarios.
“The characters have resonated with South Korean youth who do not see a chance to advance in society.
“Known locally as the ‘dirt spoon’ generation, many are obsessed with ways to get rich quickly, like with cryptocurrencies and the lottery.”
4) We no longer feel like we’re part of anything
As the author Sebastien Junger wrote about in his 2012 book Tribe, many of us have outwardly excellent lives but we feel inwardly empty.
The reason, according to him, is that so many of us no longer feel like we’re truly part of anything.
As Junger writes, abstract modern life no longer demands true commitment, and in return, it also offers very little in the way of true belonging.
“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves.
“The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”
The result of these loose social ties is that many people become very depressed and full of despair about their lives.
They may feel tempted to blame the system for everything that’s missing in the process, going down a road further and further away from the highly necessary task of personal empowerment.
Because the truth is we can’t truly belong to a tribe until we first truly learn who we are and what we’re capable of.
5) Western civilization is in decline
Another reason that many modern and Western societies seem so obsessed by despair is, in my view, that they are in decline.
I don’t just mean this in an economic sense with cheap labor and production supplanting Western industries.
I also mean that socially we’ve lost our grounding and there’s no real basis we’re aware of to cling to in a post-Enlightenment framework.
Even supposedly brilliant people like Jordan Peterson point out the decline that’s happening but only offer a different form of isolated individualism to replace it.
Relativism seems to have sunk its claws into everything, creating fertile ground for bizarre cults and global disaster.
The Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran was a nihilist who struggled with despair – and celebrated it – throughout his life.
He famously advanced the idea that never being born was best of all, and was ashamed of the strong enthusiasm he had for Nazism early in his life.
Despite being a celebrated writer, he was in most outward ways a complete failure, something which he consciously cultivated.
“The specter of failure haunts his oeuvre starting with his earliest, Romanian book; then, throughout his life, he never strayed away from failure.
“He studied it from varying angles and at different moments, as true connoisseurs tend to, and looked for it in the most unexpected places.
“Not only can individuals end up as failures, Cioran believed, but also societies, peoples, and countries.”
6) Religious and spiritual values have been lost
This may be a controversial point with which some people strongly disagree, but I do believe that the loss of commonly held religious and spiritual values is one reason society has become so obsessed with despair.
The counterculture movement of the 1960s did a great job of pointing out the abuses and excesses of organized religion.
But their relativistic and hedonistic replacement for religion was severely lacking and didn’t lead to the world of harmony and freedom they imagined.
Instead, it was in many ways an abdication of responsibility and a childish hatred of authority and rules that threw away the foundation of the house because it didn’t like the roof.
Society is obsessed with despair because it’s too materialistic and has become trapped in the idea that metaphysics, religion and spirituality is mostly a lot of bunk.
This shortsighted reaction has led many people to become deeply depressed, because once you’ve truly lost faith it’s very hard to claw your way out of the abyss.
7) The modern education system made us into passive losers
As self-help guru Tony Robbins explains here, the modern education system is all about making us cogs in the machine.
“As Robbins says, starting right in elementary school we learn that we should not talk, act or behave out of our own motivation but ‘wait until we tell you what to do.’
This conditioning turns us into mental slaves who conform to what’s expected of us and think that success and fulfillment will “come to us.’”
This passivity is awful for succeeding in life or finding happiness.
It makes us full of expectation, conformity and dullness. It puts out our creative spark and makes us ashamed of our own personal power.
This is why reclaiming our personal power and truly owning our desires, shortcomings and challenges is the way to stop becoming so drunk on despair.
3 ways to turn things around
1) Reclaim your personal power
One of the biggest things any of us can ever do to stop basking in the cheap wine of tragedy is to reclaim our personal power.
There’s so much focus on being a victim these days that it can become like a soporific drug.
It’s imperative that you learn to just say no.
Begin with yourself. Stop searching for external fixes to sort out your life, deep down, you know this isn’t working.
And that’s because until you look within and unleash your personal power, you’ll never find the satisfaction and fulfillment you’re searching for.
I learned this from the shaman Rudá Iandê. His life mission is to help people restore balance to their lives and unlock their creativity and potential. He has an incredible approach that combines ancient shamanic techniques with a modern-day twist.
In his excellent free video, Rudá explains effective methods to achieve what you want in life without losing yourself in the process.
So if you want to build a better relationship with yourself, unlock your endless potential, and put passion at the heart of everything you do, start now by checking out his genuine advice.
Here’s a link to the free video again.
2) Limit your exposure to the circus
There’s a temptation to try to outwit or outrun the System and take the “red pill” to get out of the Matrix.
Screw it all, you might think…
After all, as I’ve discussed there are all sorts of problems and mindsets that are making modern life lonely, disconnected and empty.
But rejecting the system fully is actually disempowering.
Your true power lies in realizing that we’re all interconnected and part of imperfect and sometimes harmful systems whether we like it or not: and therein lies our potential to begin changing and reforming them.
You’re not going to single-handedly solve climate change, although I wouldn’t doubt your ability to make a dent in it and innovate new technologies.
You’re not going to go off-grid and end up saving the world with a new educational system, but you could run for the school board and start changing how the system teaches…
You have power that can make a big difference in many people’s lives, and the more you remember to practice it the more you serve as an antidote to our society’s addiction to despair.
3) Remember that the human spirit is stronger than you know
For years I tried to “beat” my problems and be strong, thinking that struggles and issues I was having made me a bad person or inadequate.
I vaguely imagined a life of happiness and fulfillment where what I deserved would finally come my way and people would see me for who I truly was.
I adopted various labels and ideas to try to connect with the world around me, but I kept remaining focused on me: my failures, my successes, my confusions.
Things didn’t really begin to improve until I got out of my own head and started living my purpose instead of just talking about it.
The human spirit is strong and it can overcome a lot.
If you’re feeling lost in despair and feeling like society is truly screwed, just remember everything that past generations have overcome.
As this story of Holocaust survivor Jerry Rawicki shows, the tenacity of the human spirit is incredible.
Is despair bad?
In closing, I want to make one thing clear: feeling sad or even feeling despair is natural and healthy at times.
Just like nature goes through its seasons, so does the human soul.
You aren’t lesser or corrupted or a failure because you have strong emotions of despair or feel lost or lonely in life.
And you aren’t wrong for also feeling like society is broken and lost and that you want more!
There’s nothing “wrong” with you for feeling despair for yourself or society: you simply need to use it for something instead of letting it stagnate and drag you into inactivity and the victim trap.
There are so many powerful reasons to go on even when it’s impossible.
As labor organizer Cesar Chavez said:
“We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live.
“We shall endure.”