In an essay that comes to us courtesy of ABC Religion (a service of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), David Malouf ponders the modern malaise: if we are so successful as a species, why are we so unhappy?
Ask any one of your friends or neighbours if they are happy and the answer they will probably give is that they have nothing to complain of. What they mean is that the good life as previous generations might have conceived it has been attained.
Medical science ensures that fewer children die in infancy, that most infectious diseases have been brought under control and the worst of them - smallpox, plague, TB, polio - have in most parts of the world been eliminated; that except for a few areas in Africa famine is no longer known among us; that in advanced societies like our own we are cared for by the state from cradle to grave.
We do complain, of course, but our complaints are trivial, mostly ritual. Our politicians lack vision, interest rates are too high, the pace of modern living is too hectic; the young have no sense of duty, family values are in decline.
The good life, it seems, is not enough. We have nothing to complain of, we are "happy enough"; but we are not quite happy. We are still, somehow, unsatisfied, and this dissatisfaction, however vaguely conceived, is deeply felt.