The Happiness-Suicide Paradox

By Anthony Gold

Where do you think is the best place to live?

Perhaps you’d select Hawaii or some jewel in South America like Argentina or maybe amidst the glorious food and climate of southern France.

But if you are looking for places with the highest reported levels of happiness, then you would choose Denmark, Sweden, or Switzerland.  That’s right – citizens in those three countries are among the most satisfied people in the world.

What if you were looking to avoid the parts of the world that have the highest rates of suicide.  Where might you steer clear?  Perhaps certain parts of the Middle East or locales with awful climates?

Actually, you would avoid Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Yep, the countries with the highest levels of happiness also have the highest levels of suicide.  How can that be?

In the case of Denmark and Sweden, for many years researchers thought it might have something to do with the dark winters in Scandinavia or perhaps differences regarding the way happiness is measured across cultures.  But that turned out not to be the case.

In fact, the reason suicide rates are much higher in “happy” countries is because of a psychological concept known as relative deprivation.  It turns out that if you are sad in a country where most of your neighbors are generally down, then by comparison, you don’t feel as disconnected.  But, if you are depressed in a country where everyone else is smiling and happy all the time – then by comparison you feel even more miserable.  And, as it turns out, much more likely to take your life.

Further, this phenomenon of relative deprivation appears throughout all aspects of society.  It’s why – as research has definitively shown – you are far better off going to a “lesser” school where you can be near the top of your class than to a “stretch” university where you will be mediocre at best.

So, is the key to happiness surrounding ourselves with miserable friends and neighbors?  Clearly not.  While we might feel some sense of relative divergence, their negative energy would hardly be nourishing and would eventually sap us.  No, the key is looking at what we’re measuring happiness against.

And if we are appraising our happiness on external, transient elements such as money, health, or partners – then we are certain to be despondent.

You really think that you would starve unless you have stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs. You really think a small round pellet or some fluid pushed in to your veins through a sharpened needle will ward off disease and death. You really think you are alone unless another body is with you. (W-pI.76.3)

Consider the world you have made and judge its worth fairly. Is it worthy to be a home for a child of God? Does it keep his heart untouched by fear, and allow him to give always, without any sense of loss? (T-7.XI.2)

As we learn in A Course in Miracles, the world we made – our current experiences – will never bring us joy while we joined with the thought system of the ego.  Instead, the way of learning true happiness “is the opposite of the curriculum you have established for yourself, but so is its outcome.  If the outcome of yours has made you unhappy, and if you want a different one, a change in the curriculum is obviously necessary.”

Thus we are offered a different curriculum, one that cannot fail, and one that leads to a sense of happiness that surpasses all understanding.  One that is not dependent on what we have or who we’re with or how our body is functioning.

Join us in Monday’s class where we will explore this concept of happiness and the practical steps we can take to achieve it.  I look forward to seeing you then.

2 thoughts on “The Happiness-Suicide Paradox

  1. I’ve been been studying ACIM for a while and find that I experience a peace, stillness, joy and happiness only to be followed by deep sadness and wonder what is the purpose I have on this earth? What am I missing in this curriculum? Please share your Monday discussions where you explore concepts of happiness and apply them as a mind and body in this physical world. Thank you.

  2. The challenge that many ACIM students experience is that sometimes our “path” feels more challenging as we advance along the Course’s lessons of forgiveness. “Learning is ultimately perceived as frightening because it leads to the relinquishment of the ego.” (T-4.I.3). And as we relinquish our belief in such a maladaptive thought system, we “stand in terror” before what we “swore never to look upon: the ‘loveliness’ of sin, the delicate appeal of guilt, the ‘holy’ waxen image of death, and the fear of vengeance of the ego” (T-19.IV.D.6). And as the course reminds us back in chapter 7, “the ingeniousness of the ego to preserve itself is enormous” (T-7.VI.3).

    So, it’s no wonder we experience what you correctly refer to as “deep sadness”. Pure “ego preservation”. But the good news is that the end is certain. As Lesson 121 points out, “I will awaken from the dream that I am mortal, fallible and full of sin, and know that I am the perfect Son of God.” We will awaken to the oneness of eternity that we never left. Recall the lovely line, “not one note in Heaven’s song was missed” (T-26.V.5).

    And our purpose here is simply to be released from guilt by first remembering that everything “happens” in the mind. Choosing the wrong-minded thought system of the ego results in our experiences of sin, guilt, and fear. But once we realize that, we can make a different choice – for the Holy Spirit. “Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty [ego] choice before you now can make a better one [holy spirit], and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought you.” (T-31.VIII.3).

    Continuing that lovely paragraph is this wonderful passage: “In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, ‘My brother, choose again.’ He would not leave one source of pain unhealed.” (T-31.VIII.3). At this point, our life is transformed from a prison to a classroom. Lesson 71 (Only God’s plan for salvation will work) wonderfully contrasts the ego’s plan for salvation (seek but do not find) with the certain way that leads to “release and joy”.

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