Why everything is wonderful but nobody’s happy, and what to do about it

This general prosperity does not abolish, and often exacerbates, the social comparisons and jealousies that persistently plague mankind. We have become dependent on others, both for their services to us and, even more importantly, their opinions about us. Even more than our desires for an abundance of possessions, our interpersonal needs make us dependent.

As social creatures, our psychological well-being is rooted in our relationships. Consequently, Rousseau asserted that “social man lives constantly outside himself, and only knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence merely from the judgment of others concerning him.” Our culture’s social media obsessions are perhaps the purest illustration yet of this human tendency.

Our need for community and companionship makes us vulnerable to others, and introduces new evils. Society means comparison, and thus jealousy, envy, vanity, and so on. Thus Rousseau saw even love, as much as property, as the ruin of natural man, for “With love arose jealousy.” However delightful love in its various forms may be, its intensity and particularity make it perilous.