On the front page of today's New York Times, there's an article about the suicide rate among middle-aged people going twenty percent or something in the last few years. Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/us/19suicide.html?ref=us. People don't really know how to explain it. There's one theory that it stems from all the prescription drugs that older people are using these days. Other explanations have to do with the disintegration of traditional social networks, or the large amount of Vietnam veterans who are now middle-aged. But I have my own theory, and while it might not explain this particular situation too well, I've been thinking about it all day, and this blog needs a new post.
I think our society is too fixated on having fun. I mean, of course, fun is an absolutely essential part of life, but I think Americans are obsessed with it to an unhealthy extent. For a lot of people, there is no meaning in life outside of wringing as much fun out of it as possible. Work, school, social interactions, they're all just a means to fun. The purpose of your job is to make money, so that you can go on vacation in Florida and play golf, which is fun. The purpose of school and social interactions is to party, which is fun. Seriously, so many people think this way. Fun has become so institutionalized in our society. It doesn't really seem like an organic response to life anymore. I mean, I don't know who I am to say what fun used to be, but I think that in America today, it's become almost a kind of duty. People think you're weird if you find pleasure in your work outside of the money you make doing it, or if you don't relish the idea of a golf vacation in the Bahamas. The balance between work and pleasure has become completely thrown off. Work is no longer respected or enjoyed; it's just a boring means to fun. Of course, it doesn't help that our jobs seem so meaningless these days. I mean, what do investment bankers and consultants really do, anyway, other than chasing after money?
It's a little bit like what's going in with food today. After long centuries of near-starvation, we now have more fat and sugar that we can deal with, so people just stuff themselves and get incredibly fat. Who wants broccoli when you can basically eat as many Twinkies as you want? It's the same thing with fun, except the damaging effects are much more subtle. Fun isn't really synonymous with pleasure or happiness, at least not American fun. I mean, maybe it's good for some people, but it seems like many Americans just get sucked into being fixated on golf vacations, because they feel like they should. I think to achieve real happiness, your life needs to be more of a unity. You should take pleasure in your work, just as you should take pleasure in what you do outside of work. Fun should be organic, something that you do because you like to do it, not something institutionalized, something you feel like you should do. We need to put our entire beings into everything we do; nothing should just be a means to an end. We need to stop sleepwalking through everything but the golf vacations, which probably aren't even that pleasurable anyway.
The way this ties in with the rising suicide rate is that this attitude toward life, that the ultimate goal of everything should be fun, implies that life gets progressively worse and worse after the age of thirty or so. I mean, playing squash with your buddies is okay, but it's nothing compared to the nonstop debauchery of one's late teens and twenties. If you think the only purpose of life is having fun, in a certain set of acceptable ways, what conceivable reason is there to live past fifty?