What I'll Be Covering..
1. Diminishing Happiness Levels
Critical thinkers and even those with a smidgen of common sense will agree that happiness levels have been diminishing recently. Statistics, inaccurate perhaps, but approximately true, reveal rates of mental wellbeing have plummeted, with the proportion of those saying they’re “very happy” falling from around one third of Americans to less than one fifth in recent years.
Add to that research suggesting that global rates of anxiety and depression rocketed by nearly a third in 2020 alone——the largest increase ever recorded——and it’s clear that the mood of the modern era has stagnated into one of disappointment and disillusionment.
And I think this raises an important but often overlooked question. What exactly is driving this mushrooming miasma of dissatisfaction? Culturally, you might point to the decline of the family, collapsing marriage rates, and an empty culture of brand and commodity-worship. Economically, you could argue that decades of wage stagnation, alongside the more recent spike in inflation, have, taken together, eroded living standards. Biologically, you need look no further than unhealthy eating habits and sky-rocketing rates of addiction.
Nevertheless, we haven’t yet got the full story. At its core, our dilemma stems from a deep-seated spiritual misalignment. And this is what I’ll be exploring today.
2. The Modern Disconnect
Barry Cunliffe in his work, ‘Britain Begins‘, proposes that like all animals, humans are primarily motivated by the fundamental needs to nourish themselves and procreate. “Both tendencies require aggression and self-assertiveness,” he continues, “instincts that are hard-wired into animal biology, but are constrained, to prevent them from wreaking havoc, by the formation and acceptance of status hierarchies.”
The key point is simple. From the dawn of civilization, human behaviour has been shaped by the push and pull between our cultural and biological inclinations. On the one hand, our biological instincts have driven us to explore, to fight, and to procreate. On the other hand, our cultural institutions have provided us with the framework for social order, cooperation, and stability. Taken together, the interplay between these two forces has orchestrated profound leaps forward in everything from science and literature, to art and innovation.
So far, then, so good. But a discordant note has been struck——modern society, like an inexperienced musician, has betrayed the great advances made by earlier civilizations. Indeed, as the societal hive mind has tightened its strings over individual thought and behaviour, we have been driven against the grain of our nature, against the wild, unfettered spirit that resides in all of us.
Each one of us has felt it——the inexorable pressure to hide our true selves, to become a chameleon in a society that demands sameness. Our ancestors, unlike us, followed their instincts as freely as a river flowing its course——without hesitation or self-reflection. But the dams and diversions of modern morality and conformity have warped and twisted these natural flows, transforming us into guilt-ridden, manipulable, and tame creatures; more predictable and herd-like.
This is no small thing. Keep in mind the struggle to conform and repress our true nature has begun to leech the vibrancy from our collective psyches. For in being suppressed and forced underground, our animalistic instincts do not disappear——rather, they “turn inwards, against themselves,” breeding dissatisfaction with life, feelings of resentment, powerlessness, and low self-esteem.
As a result, our lives, like stormy seas, have become riddled with waves of stress, anxiety, and depression. The feeling of being overwhelmed or psychologically distressed is regarded an inherent part of growing up, as common as the changing seasons. And while therapeutic treatments or medications may function as helpful coping tools, they shouldn’t take precedence over trying to unravel this confusion and put this stress to an end.
As the collective mind strengthens its grip over individual thought and behaviour,
The 2019 movie, ‘American Psycho ‘, shines a spotlight on this dark theatre of repressed desires. It follows Patrick Bateman, a wealthy investment banker falls prey to an obsession with his appearance, clothing, and image on Wall Street. No longer able to express his true self he begins to bury his warping desires beneath more and more layers of deception. After decades of conforming to stringent social expectations, he reaches a breaking point——culminating in a bloody and violent rampage that leaves a trail of destruction in its wake.
In several unsettling ways, we are in our own situation, more like Patrick Bateman than we might think. We suppress our desires, our passions, and our true identities, and instead, we adopt the identities that society deems acceptable. We become actors in the grand theatre of our own lives, empty vessels, devoid of true meaning or purpose.
Liberalism, once a gallant knight, has become a spectral wraith, hollowing out every institution, every tie that binds, every societal failsafe and backstop. We now inhabit an era devoid of shared meaning, devoid of individual or collective purpose, stripped of the supportive structures of yesteryears. In such an age, some of us, like porcelain figures, crack under the strain. If we perceive that we emerge from nothingness, and we’re heading towards the same, then community is just another liminal space, one stop on a short ride into oblivion.
The question then becomes how do we tackle this deeply entrenched spiritual malaise? How do we put an end to our domesticity, rekindle our primal instincts and reclaim the wisdom and resilience necessary to confront our deteriorating mental health?
We need a civilisation where animalistic instincts are not smothered but harnessed, and where societal structures don’t cage but guide these instincts towards constructive endeavours.
In the upcoming sections, I hope to sketch a map which will lead us towards some potential solutions for these daunting challenges. Together, we’ll navigate the complex landscape of the human psyche, societal expectations, and the inherent conflict between the two. Only then can we truly begin to understand our place in this landscape and how we can restore harmony between the two forces that shape it.
We put on a façade, a false self, to fit in and be accepted. We continually seek to prop up and defend an egoic self that doesn’t exist. And as we subsume our own desires and aspirations into the larger fabric of a collective consciousness,
3. Lessons From Greek Mythology: Apollo & Dionysus
Frederich Nietzsche, who has written compellingly on these themes, claims: “We must look to the ancient Greeks,” he writes, “who understood how to live, who navigated the inherent tension between individual freedom and societal expectation, and who gave a clear voice to the profound secret teachings of their contemplative art, not in ideas, but in the powerfully clear forms of their divine world.”
Let’s go with it shall. My research showed me that Greek mythology is about many things but it is centrally concerned with the cosmic dualities that shape our lives. Two deities in particular——Apollo and Dionysus——each symbolised the two fundamental drivers behind human nature.
Apollo & Dionysus have long been championed as symbols that the most creative and meaningful lives are those that embrace both reason and passion, as opposed to living a purely one-sided existence.
Apollo, the most Greek of all the gods, representing sobriety and moderation, upon whose temple was graven the great Delphic saying “everything in moderation,” embodied structure, principle and calm reason. He was often depicted as a handsome young man, with long hair and a lyre or bow and arrows.
Dionysus, in contrast, was marked by everything in excess——drunkenness, bloody feasts, people acting like mad creatures, shrieking and shouting and dancing wildly, rushing over the land in fierce ecstasy. Dionysus represented pleasure, fertility, and excess. His followers were often depicted wearing animal skins and dancing ecstatically in his honour.
And funnily enough, Apollo and Dionysus were often intertwined in various stories involving one another. In one classic tale, Apollo makes the mistake of thinking he can deceive his way into Hades’ realm. He disguises himself as Dionysus in order to adventure into the underworld. But unfortunately for him, Hades captures onto his ploy and sends him back empty-handed. The story reveals that it is only through the conscious acknowledgment and embracing of our animal urges that we can gain regain our innate power and strength.
In another story, we learn Apollo and Dionysus join forces to battle against the giant Typhon. Together they are able to overcome the giant and prevent the destruction he would have wrought upon the world. The is seen as symbolic of how order and chaos——when brought together in the right manner——can the triumph over the complexities and complications of the world around us.
Taken together, these iconic figures serve as powerful symbols of the human experience——reminding us of man’s complex nature and the inherent duality within each of us.
Greek mythology takes as its subject two figures actually living out the debate between chaos and order, forced to make decisive choices, to orient their activities in a universe of ambiguous values where nothing is ever stable or unequivocal.
What these stories invite is neither the blind impulsiveness of action, nor some retreat into the solitary life of contemplation, but accepting the difficulty and uncertainty of action in a world defined by ambiguity, where right always seems to be on both sides.
In the end, we do not know when or how, the worship of Apollo and Dionysus came together. All we are told of this momentous moment is that Orpheus, the master musician, Apollo’s pupil, reformed the violent Bacchic rites and brought them into order.
4. Harmony Through The Mingling Of Opposites
The lesson here is straightforward: in a world where chaos and order often seem at odds, the relationship between Apollo & Dionysius reminds us that living a deep & fulfilling life comes from embracing both chaos and control——and finding the right balance in-between.
The logic being that it’s the friction generated between these two poles that supplies the conditions needed to thrive in this world——like Summer and Winter. Eternal Summer would burn the world up. But eternal Winter would freeze it to death. It’s the fact that they oscillate between one another that allows life to grow and flourish.
What I think is remarkable, and sad, about modern society is how often we opt for one over the other. One the one hand, those who follow @apollo_life tend to be unemotional, perhaps a bit boring, but at least down-to-earth and reliable. To put it in crude terms, they’re the type of men that women will marry because they’re reliable and make for good providers. Make sense, right?
And yet, we also have those who prioritise passion over practicality, revelling in intense experiences and the emotions that come with them. But with a less than practical outlook, the followers of @dionysus_life, tend to lack the discipline and staying power needed to establish a rich and fulfilling life situation for themselves. As a result, they eventually wither and die. “The brightest stars burn the fastest,” writes Anna Todd in After We Collided, “so we must love them while we can.”
Wouldn’t it be better if we could draw upon the power and wisdom of both?
There’s a widespread view, let’s call it “early Nietzschean”, that the distinction between the Apollonian and the Dionysian elements, and the relationship between them, forms the key spiritual question of our era. The German goes onto claim, with some justification in my view, that the ancient Greeks were able to channel the tension generated between these two forces to propel themselves into new heights of creative expression and artistic freedom.
Edith Hamilton puts it like this in The Greek Way: “Something awakened in the minds of men there which was to so influence the mind that the passage of long time, century upon century, and the shattering changes they brought, would be powerless to wear away that impress.”
How did they do this? Well, the Greeks believed that reason and passion were two complementary aspects of human nature, each with its own purpose and value.
It was perhaps one of the less celebrated but nonetheless essential aspects of their culture to embrace both reason and vigour——each with its own purpose and value.
One the one hand, these were people who were keenly aware, terribly aware, of life’s uncertainty and the imminence of death. Over and over again they emphasised the brevity and the failure of human endeavour, the swift passing of all that is beautiful and joyful. But never, not in their darkest moments, do they lose their taste for life.
On the other hand, the Greeks believed that reason provided the tools for rational inquiry and critical thinking, enabling human beings to understand the world around them and make sense of their experience.
They lived in a reasonable world as a result of using their reason upon it. They were intellectuals. They had a passion for using their minds. In nearly every field of thought, they were the ones who took the first step. Reason was seen as the guiding force behind knowledge, ethics, and politics. It was through reason that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle developed theories of justice, morality, and metaphysics, laying the foundations of Western philosophy.
The Greek mind was free to think about the world as it pleased, to reject all traditional explanations, to disregard all that the priests taught, to search unhampered by any outside authority for the truth.
High spirit and the energy of great vital powers had worked in the Greeks to assert themselves against despotic rule and to refuse to submit to priestly rule. A high-spirited people full of physical vigour, they did not obey easily, nor did they fall prey to the trappings of collective ideology.
This stands in stark opposition to the corporate and ideological control that has begun to smother the modern public square like shrink-wrap on the face of a murder victim. Freedom, anarchism, and dissent have all been bleached from public discourse.
The ironic thing, of course, is that most of us welcome it. For one thing, modern technology has shifted many peoples priorities away from responsibility and personal growth. From being able to shop online, to getting food delivered straight to our doorsteps, everything is at our fingertips. As a result, we don’t grow. We don’t learn. We aren’t challenged. And we lead lives without passion, without drive, without ambition… without any real purpose.
According to Nietzsche, the rise of this bland consumer culture has stripped from us the unique blend of opposing values and orientations that so defined the Greek mind. In doing so, it has made us “smaller”, deprived of the friction needed to reach our fullest potential as individuals——a sentiment echoed almost two centuries ago by Henry David Thoreau who stated: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still within them.”
And indeed, this is proving to be the running theme throughout my research. When individuals, society or the world at large fail to give proper attention and consideration to both ends of the spectrum, we lose the inherent tension need to move forward with passion and purpose. We become docile, tame creatures, and from this altogether more subdued state of mind we are made more malleable to the external forces that seek to shape us.
Nietzsche referred to this condition as the age of ‘the last man’. He explained that with the rise of industrialisation and technology, humans have become increasingly complacent, comfortable, and disconnected from one another. He saw this trend as deeply problematic, arguing that it represented a decline in human potential and a betrayal of the great achievements of earlier civilizations.
In essence, the trappings of modernity have not only dulls our emotions but prevent us from becoming active architects of our own lives——as well as society as a whole. We don’t need a lot more quick fixes. We need a shift in the paradigm.
But in a world defined by relentless speed and the unending acceleration of information flows, we have lost both spirit and vigour.
Odysseus who cried for more light even if it were but light to die in, was a true Greek. Who among us could say the same?
“The exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope” is an old Greek definition of happiness. It’s a conception permeated with energy that comes from the collision between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Through all Greek history that spirit of life led along many an untried way. Authoritarianism and bland consumerism were not the direction it pointed too.
High spirit and the energy of great vital powers had worked in the Greeks to assert themselves against despotic rule and to refuse to submit to priestly rule.
liberty depends on self-restraint, that freedom is only freedom when controlled and limited.
reminding us that too much stability can lead to narrow-mindedness and stagnation, but an excess of passion without any rules or boundaries can be destructive as well.
5. Chaos & Order: A Framework For Better Living
We’re charged with turning this around. All of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we’re domesticated but we’re not.
To do this, however, we need to start getting out and about, engaging in things, talking with people, getting our hands dirty. But at the same time, we need to have enough structure and discipline in place to ensure that we make progress towards our goals.
The idea, in theory, is that it’s the friction generated between these two sides of living that opens up new possibilities, expands new horizons, and allows us to reach greater heights of creative expression than ever before.
We need to do things that make our heart race, that require us to journey outside our comfort zone, that tap into our wilder and more chaotic energies; but, at the same time, combining these more savage appetites with the civilised and controlled: taking care of ourselves, planning ahead, establishing a rigid framework of order & discipline.
As Aristotle put it perspicuously and somewhat blithely nearly a century after the zenith of Greek civilisation in the second half of the fifth century BC, “he who is not inspired and having no touch of madness in his soul, and who comes to the door and thinks he will get into the temple by the help of reason alone——he is, I say, not admitted.”
Too many of us nowadays fall down here. We approach life through stagnant, fixed goals: things like wealth building, material acquisition, security etc. We don’t like uncertainty—not being able to predict what might happen next. And it’s also true, I think, that we seek to minimise struggle and discomfort.
And this, more than anything else, is what Lifestyle Harmonics is here to fix.
Rather than cancelling each other out, opposite forces — brought into agreement with one another — create a balanced and efficient whole.
Taken together, Apollo and Dionysus each represent a balance of creative energy and power—one focused on order and rationalism, the other on freedom and release. The important thing to remember is that we’re composite creatures, made up of chaos and order, reason and vigour. When our attention is fixed upon one side of this equation to the disregard of the other, human beings result who are only partially developed, their eyes blinded to half of what life and the great world offers.
If we’re not careful the creeping sense of stagnation that can arise from this narrow-mindedness can lead to a stunted existence; where we’re feeling like something is missing and we have no idea what it is.
We have to be willing to move between the extremes——passion and purpose, chaos and control, structure and freedom——to regain a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.
Once we grasp the fundamental point——that life, in fact, involves a duet between order and chaos, reason and passion——we can begin to channel our primordial passions within a constructive framework of structure and discipline. Only by doing so can we truly overcome the nihilistic stagnation that has overtaken the modern world.