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Statistical Happiness


          Statistically speaking, I should be ecstatic to be alive. Every day should be an exhilarating and wonderful experience to be appreciated, just based on the numbers. I am one of approximately 107 billion people who have ever existed. Ever, on the whole planet. And I exist in a free, democratic society with things like modern health care and Candy Crush. First of all, the chances of existing now (you know, with indoor plumbing) versus being one of the 100 billion already gone is about six and a half percent. That’s pretty lucky in itself. But existing now isn’t necessarily all that great. I mean, if you happen to live in Syria, or Iran, or Guatemala, or get stuck in the Sahara without a camel, you’re pretty much screwed. Nearly 3 billion people on the planet don’t even have access to clean water and sanitation. Looking at a map, I’d say there’s only about 25% of the earth’s land surface I’d care to live on, and the populations of those places totals less than a billion. Meaning of all the people currently on earth, I’m in a rare 14%. Add this to being lucky to live now versus the Dark Ages, and I’m down to less than one percent of all the people who’ve ever lived and who are now living.
          I mean, seriously, the chances I could have been born a male during any of the Crusade periods, a woman who acted funny during the Inquisition, an urban child during the Industrial Revolution, anyone during the Bubonic plague, or in rural China ever, a native when the Europeans came, a person with the wrong color skin in colonial America (or post-colonial America), my gay self in the Holocaust, or basically any other time in history that sucked, is a staggering 99%! And that’s with me counting that it might have been cool to be a Viking, or maybe a French king.
          Let’s do some further calculating. I happen to live in the United States, generally regarded (by Americans) as the pinnacle of societal evolution. And I happen to have a post-secondary education. And I happen to be squarely in the middle class. And I happen not to have any major current threats to my health. And I happen to have just snagged a black Friday laptop for less than $250. Doing some quick math on all of those factors… carry the one… dear god! I have won the jackpot! I have done better than to win the Powerball! Statistically speaking, it’s like I play the lottery every day, and every day I’m the winner. EVERY DAY. It’s mathematical absurdity. And I haven’t even started trying to calculate the improbability in the first place of having evolved into an intelligent sentient life form on a random rock hurtling through space at 67,000 miles per hour just far enough away from a ball of burning gas (but not too close) to form a perfect atmosphere in a universe so large it hurts my brain to think about. Or conversely that there’s a god who created me on purpose. I mean, whichever you choose really, I feel both are equally difficult to fathom. Anyway, I should wake up happy every single damn morning.
          But I don’t. Instead I wake up with dull flat hair and a sense of dread. Why? What the hell is wrong with me? Of the 107 billion people who’ve ever hurtled through space on this rock, I am far from the brightest, but I do have some ideas about my own unrest and general dissatisfaction. Simply put, it’s this: I don’t have enough stuff. Seriously, if I could just get a bigger house, that would be awesome. Also maybe a girlfriend, a wardrobe by Kenneth Cole, and an elliptical machine that will fit in my new house so I can get ripped to fit in my new wardrobe in order to get my new girlfriend. I have it all figured out. I just need more stuff. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the 5,000 ads I see per day, on television, the internet, billboards, radio, magazines and elsewhere, telling me what I need. Telling me how to be happy, and that I am missing some key element of happiness, and it’s the NutriBullet or a Sleep Number bed or a size 2 figure. And it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the 24-hour news cycle. I wouldn’t know how to exist without Sean Hannity telling me everything that’s wrong with everything, or CNN constantly reminding me of all the awful shit going on in the world, over and over (with commercial breaks) in order to justify their presence all day every day. Thank god for it really, or I wouldn’t know how worried to be. I should probably worry more than I do. In fact, I’m worried I’m not worried enough. I also spend a large number of hours daydreaming of a time machine that would allow me to go back and redo my entire twenties, because everyone knows dwelling on the past always makes the present better.
          Wait a second. I’ve just had a new thought (I know it’s a new thought because they always cause me some level of discomfort). What if, really, being born in America in this day and age is both a blessing and a curse, and that in order to experience the blessing you have to learn to navigate the curse? What if modern technology and capitalism have conspired to make us feel constantly less-than and disconnected? What if all the things we think we want are like my liberal arts degree… really expensive and completely useless? What if we’ve gotten so bogged down in day-to-day routines we’ve forgotten what living really is? I’m trying to remember the last time I felt thrilled, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t at the copy machine earlier. If I did have the ability to time travel maybe I’d go back and see if I could find some cavemen to observe. Somehow I just can’t imagine finding a mopey caveman who needed caveman therapy because he never felt fulfilled. They were probably too busy living. What if all I have to do to be happy is forget everything I think I know, purge most of my worldly possessions, start interacting with others in person more than through a screen, connect with the natural world, focus on the moment and remember that every day I’m here it’s like I’ve won the lottery? Nahhhhh. Statistically speaking, it seems improbable it’s that easy. Or is it?*

(*unless you’re stuck in the Sahara without a camel)

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