Many people are concerned about terrible fates that await us in the not-too-distant future. Some believe that in December 2012, the world will come to an end. Others point to the near and present dangers of climate change, overpopulation, environmental degradation, and nuclear war in the Middle East, to name just a few. While I consider myself to be a rational person and believe there is validity in most of these claims (except the first), I actually think the coming apocalypse may have already arrived . . .
Let me explain.
I just got back from Denmark, home of the “happiest people in the world,” according to a recent UN study. And if being happy means having the highest standard of living in all of human history, then they must be happy. If happiness means having unprecedented personal and political freedoms and human rights as a cultural norm, then they must be happy. If happiness means having a social welfare system that ensures everybody’s healthcare is well taken care of by the state, then they must be happy. Finally, if happiness means clean air, clean water, and the world’s best restaurant, then they must be happy.
But I’ve been going to visit the happiest people in the world, as a spiritual teacher and lecturer, for over ten years now, and my experience tells me otherwise.
During my recent visit, I had the privilege of having a four-and-a-half hour in-depth discussion with one of Denmark’s most respected psychotherapists, Ole Vadum Dahl. When I described to him my impression of the Danes’ spiritual predicament, his ears perked up. I said, “I find the Danes hard to reach at a soul level. I think this is because they are so comfortable. I’ve tried to penetrate their self-satisfaction in order to generate some real existential tension and interest in higher human development, but more often than not, it’s to no avail. I believe their great good fortune in being among the luckiest people who have ever been born has left them existentially adrift and spiritually numb.”
Ole’s response surprised me. He said, “Andrew, the problem is worse than that. Danish people are bored, but what’s worse is that they don’t even know it.”
It has become popular opinion to suggest that Scandinavian countries have the highest suicide rates in the world. While this may be a controversial statistic, suicide has apparently become so socially acceptable that it is commonplace in Denmark and Sweden to tell jokes about taking one’s own life, suggesting that if one gets depressed enough, that’s a culturally understandable way to solve the problem.
To add to this pretty picture, Denmark currently boasts one of the highest levels of alcoholism in its young people.
If one could travel back 1000 years, and tell a Viking King or Queen about the social and political freedoms and the inconceivable level of wealth and comfort that future Scandinavians would be the recipients of in the 21st century, it would no doubt sound to them like they were not hearing about a place on future earth, but were hearing about Valhalla itself.
But in fact, the apocalypse, existentially speaking, may already be here. Think about it. There is something tragically ironic when the luckiest people in the history of the human experiment are not able to feel lucky, because they are suffering from a culturally conditioned hole in their souls.
There are many problems in the world today. The Syrian President is massacring his own women and children. Poachers in Kenya are slaughtering thirty elephants a day for their tusks. Child prostitution is rampant in Southeast Asia. And Israel is considering starting a war with Iran.
Meanwhile, the luckiest people who have ever been born are bored . . . and they don’t even know it.
Join Andrew Cohen in a free live dialogue with integral philosopher Ken Wilber about the dangerous allure of apocalyptic thinking on December 21st, 2012. Click here to register.