Entitlement in Society (Part 1): Destroys Happiness

I recently read one of the most disheartening news pieces I have ever seen: “Are Jobs Obsolete?”  Not only was it on the front page of CNN’s website, but more than 37,000 people “liked it” on Facebook.  The article’s premise boggles my mind: the US is so productive that we shouldn’t worry about unemployment rates. In other words, most people could just sit around watching soaps all day, while a few highly trained people and robots work, and our GDP can be divided up to support everyone “just fine.”

The article clearly points out the problem this country is having with Entitlement and with people espousing flawed economic and social logic to drive public policy. For three basic reasons this “logic” is not in the best interest of individuals or society, entitlement: destroys happiness, stunts growth and diminishes quality of life. In this blog entry, I’ll address the first: why entitlement destroys happiness.

While the idea of sitting around on the couch doing nothing sounds great in theory, I’ll argue it’s not good for a person’s self-esteem and ultimately his/her happiness. Let’s start with the premise that high self-esteem enhances happiness, while low self-esteem decreases it.  Studies have shown that unemployment and lack of purpose have a dramatic negative impact on self-esteem and mental health in many cases. It has been shown that up to 40% of unemployed people suffer mental distress.  I would hazard to say the vast majority of those who are unemployed would be happier if they were employed. Why is that?

When I taught Jiu-Jitsu, I developed a theory.  I noticed that people started training for many reasons. Some just wanted to learn. Some wanted to “kick butt.” Others had been bullied or suffered attacks in life and wanted to feel empowered. Whatever the reason, over time, I saw a dramatic change in them.  People’s bravado or fear started to go away and a more confident person emerged. I do not think it was because they could now “kick butt.” I believe it was because they overcame some many challenges as time went on, they started to “know” they could do it again.  A person would try a technique and fail every time the first day.  The next day, they got it once.  The next time, they executed two out of three times.  Eventually, it was nine out of 10 times.  Moving forward, when we showed a new technique they had problems with, it stopped fazing them. They knew they would get it after a while.  I believe that confidence comes from meeting and overcoming challenges.  That attitude and confidence will follow them in everything they do in life.

We have all heard of the spoiled rich kid whose parents are successful, yet they underachieve in life.  It doesn’t seem to make sense, does it?  They have everything: the best schools, hard working parents and a world of opportunities. Success should be a given, right?  My theory is many of them were sheltered their whole lives and never had the trials and tribulations that developed their confidence.  They did not fall down and struggle to get up.  They did not have to push through and solve for themselves the rough patches of life.  Instead, someone bailed them out.  There’s a reason most extremely successful people come from less than ideal backgrounds.  They learned to overcome hurdles at a very young age and now view adversity in a more constructive way.

Work acts much the same way.  It gives people a purpose.  They can go to work and add value to their team and society every day.  When they overcome challanges or master a new task, it adds to their confidence. If they do well and get promoted, that’s a great confidence boost.  As time goes on, this purpose and ongoing positive reinforcement helps to develop confidence.  That confidence leads to more success, greater happiness and a better, more purposeful life.

Any program or concept that incentivizes people to “not work” or “not face challenges,” as proposed in the CNN article, ultimately hurts individuals.  While a life of leisure sounds great in theory, individuals will not evolve, but rather they’ll develop low self-esteem and find it difficult to achieve happiness.  We must encourage the opposite, if only for individual well-being and for society as a whole.