Pursuing happiness without helping others is narcissism; but trying to help others at the cost of your own happiness just leads to bitterness and burnout.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve addressed bullying on this site and my other one. I’ve begun to realize that bullying isn’t a matter of political orientation, it’s a widespread social problem. We tend to think that people bully others to maintain their position some sort of hierarchy. Ultimately, though, those who attack others – whatever their social position – are deeply unhappy.
Social justice gets used and interpreted a lot of different ways. I define it as the attempt to create a more just world, in which people are free from threats and limitations based on their race, gender, etc. In order to move past injustices, we need to let go of the hyper-competitive, ultra-hierarchical attitudes that have dominated our society for a long time. It’s in everyone’s best interest to create a more just society. After all, how happy, creative, or adventurous can you be when your energy is consumed by attacking, hating, humiliating, judging, policing, or punishing others?
What I’ve learned is that you need to strive for both happiness and social justice. If you’re privileged enough to not have to worry about injustices, your quest to be happy will inevitably be shallow and callous. On the other hand, just trying to solve the world’s problems will make you miserable. Part of the reason I got out of academia was there was little emphasis on personal happiness or even self-care.
I’ve tried to integrate both into my professional work. I’m trying to make jazz more accessible to those who’ve typically been excluded from it – just a pinch of “sticking it to the man.” But I don’t delude myself – I play jazz and cross-stitch and do yoga and a bunch of other things because they make me happy, not to save the world. That said, I’m not hurting anyone, and by sharing my happiness with others. By doing so, I’m helping them find productive, not destructive ways to live their lives.
I’ll probably never find just the right balance of happiness and social justice. But by articulating this need and sharing my experiences, I hope to create a happier, more just, and better balanced world.