Carl Jung And Why You’re Unhappy
Carl Jung’s book, Modern Man’s Search For A Soul, is a book that attacks the questions of modernity, and why people are increasingly becoming happy in an industrialized society with a high standard of living.
In the beginning, he lays out his thoughts on dreams and dream-analysis, notions which are typically rejected by other psychologists but to him, there’s a lot of potential.
Jung attributes significant weight to the subconsciousness, so naturally, his emphasis on the importance of dreams and what they can mean only makes sense.
Over his years as a psychologist, he repeatedly came across people who complained of a sense of hopelessness, a lack of direction, significance, and depression, something which he described as being a “spiritual problem.”
On some level, when reading the eleven essays written in this book, I can’t help but wonder if Jung is looking back on the past nostalgically.
Is it true that people are more hopeless and depressed than they were in the 19th and 18th centuries? I find it hard to believe, just because of the number of people lifted out of poverty in the last century.
Despite all of our technological advancements, and despite all of the people we’ve pushed into the middle class in the last fifty years, the amount of medication dished out to unhappy people is symptomatic of some problem, whatever it may be.
Mental Illness Is Becoming A Serious Issue
All you have to do is look at the homepage for UsWeekly, a media organization which specializes in popular culture and entertainment, and at least one celebrity is talking about their mental health struggles every week.
It’s all over media platforms like Twitter and Facebook too.
However, a big reason why they’re doing that is to spread awareness for the problem and to end the shame around mental health struggles.
In the last 10-15 years, people have become obsessed with this topic; if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll frequently hear people talking about their anxiety, sadness, etc.
I remember once in University, I spoke with a girl who said that we needed to end the stigmatization of mental health, with which everyone agrees.
However, she claimed those who complain of being depressed need to be consoled, whereas I argued they need to pull themselves out of the gutter, figure out what’s wrong with their lives, and make the necessary changes.
I questioned the notion that every person who is diagnosed with depression is clinically depressed. I think most people are complaining in the hope someone will console and give them attention.
But, on the other hand, I can admit that mental health is a serious issue, and for the people who are legitimately suffering at a level that is “clinical,” my heart goes out to them.
By that, I mean, people who have illnesses like Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, or bipolar disorder.
Something about these terms throws me off though.
When I say these words out loud, part of me feels like we’ve all been duped, as if people in the ivory towers have taken a look at every interesting personality quirk you had and decided it was symptomatic of an illness.
“Here, take three of these pills a day. It will make you less energetic and less of a nuisance to your teacher.”
Doug Stanhope said it best when he joked about modern medicine and individualism in his comedy special, Deadbeat Hero.
Check it out at 8:00 minutes.
In high school, I knew someone who made me question if he really had a “problem,” or was just too much of an individual for school?
He was super high-energy, someone who wasn’t supposed to be in school. This kid was meant to be a physically active person, a runner, a hunter, a construction worker, someone who uses their hands and doesn’t look at a book, ever.
However, he was taking Ritalin all of the time. It was pretty noticeable when he didn’t take it; his energy would be through the roof, making funny faces, noises, and doing all kinds of wild things.
Whenever he was on Ritalin, his personality, mood, sense of humor, everything was COMPLETELY different. He didn’t joke around as much; he wasn’t as crazy with his hands and didn’t have as much fire about him.
As much as he probably wanted to fit into what we perceive as “normalcy,” I could tell there was something about this kid which was unique.
I don’t know where he is today, but easily, he could’ve been a stand-up comedian, an actor, something like that, an entertainer. Someone who’s an artist, still useful to society, but sitting on the outside of the fence of what we describe as typically “normal” occupations.
He wasn’t going to be sitting at a desk for his whole life, that’s for sure unless he continued to take those drugs.
Either way, the drugs prescribed to patients is done for the sake of helping people function within society.
A lot of people are unhappy, and I think Jung’s analysis of the individual – and the soul – might have something to offer.
Considering he grew up from the late 1800’s all the way into the 1960’s, this man saw incredible changes in his lifetime.
He witnessed raising literacy, the mechanization, and industrialization of society, two devastating World Wars, as well as the fall of traditional religions and the mentality of all those who followed them.
Jung believed one of the focal reasons for the emergence of wicked people like Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Mao, was the end of Christianity, and while I’m not a religious person, it makes sense that those who no longer have faith in religion, have to find faith in something else.
Modern Society’s Values Have Changed Completely
It’s hard for us to understand now, but at one point, the idea that there was heaven we all go to once we die, was a comforting thought considering how hard life was for the average person.
The average daily wage for a blacksmith in the United States in 1870 was $2.43, when taking inflation into account that’s $36.31 in 2018, in other words, not much.
Even people with a good career made barely any money. It makes sense that people believed in God, because what else could you do? Life was tough.
People who might not relate to these ideas – a person who hangs out with their friends every day – might not understand the significance of this kind of thing, just because their life, as a young person, is mostly spent hanging out with their friends and studying for exams.
However, once that stage of your life is over, you begin to ask yourself more existential questions. Like, “what am I going to do with my life?”
“I have a Bachelor’s degree, student debt, and no prospects for a job, what am I going to do?”
“Should I travel?”
“Should I just move back home with mom and dad until I figure out something to do?”
“Maybe I’ll just keep working here.”
“Should I start a family? A lot of my other friends are getting married and I’m just sitting here doing shit.”
In the past, religious traditions gave people routines and things to believe.
Existential Crisis Was Less Common Because People Had Predetermined Roles
There were firmly established roles for people to play. There was no existential crisis, or maybe just less of them.
The most pressing issue for Carl Jung was that without religious beliefs, people had to face haunting questions by themselves, with no one to help them, no doctrine, or belief system.
Like, “what’s the point of living?”
That might not seem like a challenging question when you live in a Western nation with everything taken care of, but back in the early 1900’s and late 1800’s, that was a tough question.
When you’re working like a dog every single day with zero chance of moving up the social status ladder, hopelessness is the norm. In our society today, there’s a reason to work.
You know that if you put in the work, you can get a promotion, make more money, meet more women (or men), get more vacation time, or possibly become famous and reach the upper echelons of society.
We take social mobility for granted.
In a passage from Modern Man’s Search For A Soul, Jung said people who lived in the medieval ages had a dramatically different perspective.
For them, the earth was eternally fixed at the center of the universe, with everything spinning around it. People knew what they had to do to live their life, treat others right, and hopefully rise from the corrupted earth into the heavens for “eternal blessedness.”
Moreover, industrialization led to the building of massive cities, where vast numbers of people are all living together in one small area.
Urbanization, or “massification,” whatever you want to call it, leads to the individual feeling less useful, more like another head in the crowd rather than a unique and significant person.
Interestingly enough, I’ve hard this thought paralleled before during Joe Rogan’s podcast, where he noted that scientists had conducted studies on rat populations which showed when vast numbers of rats are pushed into one small area, aggressive behavior increases.
It makes total sense as to why a person may feel “insecure, unstable, suggestible,” as well as prone to depression and anxiety when living in a city with a large population. You’re no longer a part of a tribe of people, where each person has a function within the group.
Each person would have a meaningful position, a group of men would hunt, women would cook and clean, take care of the children, maybe the old men were the “intellectuals” of the group, telling stories and shit to the young kids, and another group farming.
(Although, I think that agrarian practices come long after people lived in tribes, but you get the idea).
Either way, each person had a defined role that was a massive, an essential, contribution to the culture. It made a person feel important because they were.
It’s Easy To Feel Like You’re A Cog In The Machine
However, when there are 6 million people in one area, you might not feel as necessary, especially if your job is thankless as if you’re a cog-in-the-machine.
“An individual’s feeling of weakness, of non-existence, is compensated by the eruption of desires for power.”
This line is self-explanatory; when people feel powerless, just another useless person, they become embittered, hopeless, and the need to compensate for those feelings of worthlessness is compensated for by wanting power.
I think this might be one of the causes for social-media-outrage and mobs, where users gang up online and try to have some person fired because of a benign joke that hurt no one.
It’s a thirst for power, influence, prestige, and the recognition of one’s self-importance, disguised as morality and virtuosity. Like everyone has heard before, the term, “virtue signaling.”
Typically, I try to avoid using terms that are associated with particular movements, but this one is so good at describing the outraged mobs.
Everyone knows, deep down inside, that those people don’t even care, it’s a desperate call for attention and the need to be praised by other people.
Of course, everybody does things for validation, but there’s something about exaggerating your grievances for attention that is pathetic.
In Jung’s The Fight With The Shadow, he writes, “a compensation (for power) can be beneficial if one can integrate the compensatory contents of the unconscious, into their consciousness, thus bringing more balance to their conscious mind and an overall improvement to their psychological health.”
However, “if the unconscious contents of the compensation, which in the case of a spiritual problem, take the form of a lust for power, remain hidden in the unconscious, the compensation can prove extremely dangerous.”
“If such a compensatory move of the unconscious is not integrated into the consciousness of the individual, it leads to neurosis or even a psychosis.”
If You Don’t Handle Your Problems They Manifest Through Subconscious Behavior
Jung warned that people who don’t realize, consciously, there is something wrong, and they feel powerless to make changes in their life, would begin to impulsively act out their subconscious feelings of powerlessness.
I thought this was a particularly brilliant way of explaining the problem.
To use another example, if a person feels isolated from a social group, but doesn’t address those feelings consciously, they’ll act impulsively needy toward other people in their life.
There’s a good chance they might not even realize how needy and desperate they appear.
If they haven’t taken the time to think: “Hey, you know what? I feel left out of this group, and maybe that’s why I’m acting like this?”, the impulsivity of the feeling grows both in their actions as well as in their subconscious mind.
Men and women who are lost, without direction, without self-awareness, and incapable of realizing what problems are laying in the back of their mind, things which they ignore every day, are suggestible. They have no faith which roots them into the ground.
People who are without a strong moral foundation are prone to “collective ideologies, massive movements, and institutions which they think have the power they as individuals lack.”
In ancient times, during times of desperation, people looked to the gods for hope. Nowadays, God is dead to most people, so individuals have to look at their life, beliefs, and actions to figure out what’s important to them.
An individual has to have a belief in something, whatever that thing may be. In my opinion, you can have faith in a goal. Your goals can keep you going, and your path can keep you in a straight direction.
I think this is a universally accepted fact in humanity. Even the group, Alcoholics Anonymous, has stated the importance of believing in something “greater than ourselves.”
Going back to the stand-up of Doug Stanhope, he once argued AA was such a joke because of their reliance on God. However, after I dug into it a bit, AA doesn’t necessarily want its practitioners to believe in God, they just want you to have faith in a higher purpose, whatever it may be.
An example of a higher purpose for a person may be, “to end the drug war in the United States,” or to “end homelessness.”
These are higher purposes. It isn’t just the faith in God, although it can be that too. Find an ax to grind, something to keep yourself occupied. Set goals in relation to the five areas of your life Jung described as crucial to your happiness.
Jung said there were five ways for a person to work on fulfillment. Their physical and mental health; personal relationships including friends and family; the ability to enjoy art and nature, reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work; and a philosophic or religious view which provides a way of coping with the ups-and-downs of life.
Will from Revolutionary Lifestyle Design said it best when he described three factors for increasing happiness, “wealth, health, and lifestyle.”
These three are similar to Jung’s five. However, Jung’s are more specific. To have clearly defined, numerical, quantifiable goals is a great way to feel good in my experience, and each pillar which makes up the goal of happiness can be worked toward in incremental steps.
In a moment of honest self-reflection, you can ask yourself: “what is making me unhappy?” It could be, the lack of women (or men) in your life, no friends, poor familial relationships, zero cash-flow, a shit job, self-esteem issues related to your body, insecurity over your appearance, hopelessness because you hate your current life, etc.
Each issue can be faced honestly, and each one can be attacked with incremental and quantifiable goals. That’s where it’s at. That’s what you got to do.