Technology is amazing, but happiness comes from accepting life as it is
- Technology promises infinite possibilities for improvement, while creating a challenge for happiness
- Stoic wisdom encourages us to take the time to love and accept the world
- Philosophical reflection on infertility, gender transition, and other technological innovations points toward deep questions about human life
We do not live in accord with nature. Never content to leave things alone, we tinker and experiment, invent and explore. Growth and innovation are the driving forces of the free world and the free market.
Technology has created previously unimagined possibilities. Bruce Jenner’s gender transition and Sofia Vergara’s frozen embryos are reminders of a new array of options, which create new ethical challenges. Gender and infertility were once viewed as fixed points of nature. Now they can be modified according to our own desires.
Hurray for freedom and ingenuity. But choice breeds discontent. When there is always room for modification it is difficult to accept the status quo.
Our technological prowess encourages us to dream of who we want to become. Our political liberty allows us to actualize our dreams. So we avoid reconciling ourselves to the flaws and faults of the world. Why accept our limitations, when we can overcome them through science?
Technology promises solutions for all of our problems. There is even an app called “Happify,” whose website claims that happiness is “winnable” with just a few clicks per day. So much for the long, slow struggle up the mountain to find enlightenment. We are too busy for that.
Each consummation of happiness is fleeting. So we jump back on the treadmill, looking for other satisfactions, expecting something new, exciting, and different.
A sign of this is the experience of phantom phone vibration, an imagined pocket vibration, which feels like your phone is buzzing when it is not. Apparently, this is common. Ask a teenager for confirmation. We are so primed for diversion, so eager for new stimulus that we conjure it up for ourselves.
I worry that with each bit of instant technological gratification and each new choice, we forget that life includes boredom, sadness and grief—as well as joy and inspiration. In the end, our freedom will come to naught: there is no app for immortality. In a technologically mediated world, it is easy to ignore the natural, human processes of living, learning, loving and losing.
Of course, our lives are easier today. Technology is useful, in moderation. But the urge to improve must be supplemented with the wisdom that comes from being reconciled with the inherent imperfection of things.
Tranquility comes from learning to love the world as it is and accepting things as they are. This is a common refrain in the world’s wisdom traditions.
The ancient Stoics encouraged a life in accord with nature. A central lesson of Stoicism is the need to embrace life as it is—along with its fragility. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do.”
Wouldn’t it be great to love the world as it is, without qualification? Perhaps the best model is a mother’s love. A loving mother completely affirms the goodness of her child. She wants the child to grow and develop. But an adoring mother does not dream of a different child: she loves this one, with all of its beautiful blemishes.
Mindful acceptance of the world is the path to peace. This world exists here and now—as it is. We can tinker around the edges, but reality can’t be fundamentally changed. This body is what it is. It will continually age and degenerate. The people I share the world with are finite and flawed, like myself. I’m stuck with them, as I am stuck with myself. Mindful acceptance embraces flaws and faults along with beauty and charm, acknowledging that this is reality—messy, broken, and incomplete.
In our free and creative country there is ample opportunity for innovation. But there is a pressing need for unqualified love and serene acceptance. This is the only life we are privileged to live, the only world we will ever know.
Acceptance is difficult in a world of faultfinding pundits and dreamy advertisement. Our culture thrives on the idea that things could always be better. The hope for the better gives us a reason to roll up our sleeves and get to work. But work makes no sense without a Sabbath that consummates our efforts with an affirmation that loves the world.