Why Americans are so frustrated

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An achieving mind is created which is always trying to achieve something or other. And whenever something is achieved again the mind asks, ”Now what? What is to be achieved now?” It cannot remain with itself, it has to go on achieving. This achieving mind will never be blissful, it will always be tense. And whenever something is achieved the achieving mind will feel frustrated, because now new goals have to be invented. This is happening in America. Many of the goals of the past century have been achieved, so America is in a deep frustration.

All the goals of the founding fathers who created America and the American constitution are almost achieved. In America the society has become affluent for the first time in the whole history of mankind. Almost everybody is rich. The poor man in America is a rich man here in India. The goals have almost been achieved – now what to do? Society has become affluent: food is there, shelter is there, everybody has got a car, radio, refrigerator, tv – now what to do? A deep frustration is felt, some other goals are needed. And there seem to be no goals.

Instead of one car you can have two cars – a two-car garage has become the goal – or you can have two houses, but that will be achieved within ten years. Whatsoever the goal it can be achieved. Then the achieving mind feels frustrated. What to do now? It again needs a goal, and you have to invent a goal. So the whole of American business now depends on inventing goals. Give people goals – that’s what advertisements and the whole business of advertising is doing.

Create goals, seduce people: ”Now this is the goal! You must have this, otherwise life is purposeless!” They start running, because they have an achieving mind. But where does it lead? It leads into more and more neurosis. Only a nonachieving mind can be at peace. But a nonachieving mind is possible only with the background of a cosmic purposelessness. If the whole existence is purposeless then there is no need for you to be purposeful. Then you can play, you can sing and dance, you can enjoy, you can love and live, and there is no need to create any goal. Here and now, this very moment, the ultimate is present.  

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14 Responses to Why Americans are so frustrated

  1. operator says:

    This achieving mind will never be blissful, it will always be tense. And whenever something is achieved the achieving mind will feel frustrated, because now new goals have to be invented. This is happening in America.


    All the goals of the founding fathers who created America and the American constitution are almost achieved.

    Given that the founding fathers managed to secure a country, maintain some stately plantations, father children by their slaves, and grow cannabis in their backyards, which of their goals were left unfulfilled?

    … the whole of American business now depends on inventing goals.

    Examples? (Would an enlightened business stop at creative accounting?)

    If the whole existence is purposeless then there is no need for you to be purposeful.

    You could slice through an ontological Gordian knot to solve the riddle of consumer ennui, but…

    If you believe this, why would you expect someone who does not believe it to agree with you? (i.e. how do you sell Buddhism as a cure for consumerism?)

    Tangential: you might like The Century of Self for some insights on the US advertising industry.

  2. HP says:

    We don’t lack for goals. There’s a million worthwhile goals out there that we could take for improving ourselves/the world/ensuring the future. And nobody’s working toward them.

    That’s why we’re frustrated.

    • Francis says:

      True… Also, not many people think about others… (a la http://www.viruscomix.com/page544.html)

      Another thing, of course, is that achieving those worthwhile goals take the h-word (hard work.)
      And, hard work is hard (and tiring)… Even if the goal is something you’re passionate about… And especially if that goal is something that you don’t receive short-term positive feedback about…. Which is probably why people say to break up long-term goals into short-term goals. Am I rambling?

  3. sunshinefiasco says:

    While I agree with the criticisms of the two commenters above me, this part of the OP caught my eye:

    Create goals, seduce people: ”Now this is the goal! You must have this, otherwise life is purposeless!”

    After living abroad in Asia and South America, in far more nationalist/cohesive societies, I’m used to hearing that this is the answer to America’s problems. While I agree that trying to get Americans to do something together is like herding cats, there’s another question that never gets posed: Who is supposed to create the goals?

    The government? Please, we’ve been selling individualism for way too long, and Nixon created a generation of really powerful “Well, fuck that,”. And then we got 24 hour news coverage, insuring that no other president will be magicking up a flawless image anytime soon.

    Religion? We can’t even settle on one, plus a huge number of (highly educated, middle-class and above) people won’t agree to any.

    Business? I don’t think anyone but Mitt Romney thinks that’s a good idea, and he only thinks so because he’ll make sure his kids get the good water.

    Cultural Leaders? Who, Lady Gaga? We don’t have culture, we have pop culture. I defy you to name a generally respected famous person who isn’t an actor. We don’t even agree on those, that’s part of why we have so many.

    Maybe all of them could create goals? Well, that’s what has happened, if you add about a million more specific subgroups. The problem is that the goals often function in direct opposition to one another.

    See, that’s the thing. Culture in the US has reached a point where even if you can get 8 of 10 people to stand on one side of a room, at least 2 of those people are already thinking “Well, if this many people like it, maybe I don’t like it. And Steve’s on this side of the room, I hate Steve.”

    In fact, when we do get 80% of people to agree on something, say, “People shouldn’t knife children.”, the checks and balances in place dictate that the process of getting the “Don’t Knife Kids Act” to pass ensure that by the end, there won’t even be anything about kids or knives in the law, it’ll actually be a weapons bill with a raise for Congress attached.

    It all leads me to wonder: The people who established the US wanted a vast range of opinions to be heard, so they structured a system that demanded that a range of opinions be incorporated. Well, a range of opinions beyond what they could have dreamed are certainly heard now, and they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. So, perhaps we could tweak the system, or at least streamline/clarify the process a little?

    Maybe, but good luck getting people to agree to that.

  4. Jerboa says:

    In my experience you have it backwards. My least happy moments have been when I’ve dedicated my life to undirected leisure activities. Without work to contrast with play, each moment of play begins to feel more like work. Without accomplishing something I find meaningful, it becomes painful to think about myself. Without doing my part to push civilization forward, I feel unworthy its fruits.

    I agree that buying a new car is not a worthwhile goal, but there are plenty of worthwhile goals left. I could live for ten-thousand years and not run out of them.

  5. DataShade says:

    Almost everybody is rich.

    Um, no. I get what you mean: we’re not all first-world rich, but nobody’s starving! Only, that’s not true. Still, sure, everything is wonderful and nobody is happy, I just don’t think it’s quite why you think it is.

    To the extent that our economy is running at all, it’s because we’ve packaged up Capitalism (with a capital C) and tied it off with a fancy ribbon, sold it, had an IPO on it, run everybody else out of the market and established a sort of mercantilist monopoly on it. The fact that you believe any of what you said above means you’ve probably been buying our goods, or at least getting the catalogs.

  6. Fifi says:

    Ah, nothing like bringing up religious mythologies used to keep everyone in their place in the hierarchy – in this case seemingly borrowed from Buddhism, which grew out of Hinduism and involves mythologies quite closely related to the caste system (and keeping poor people in their place so the rich who “deserve” it get to enjoy the luxuries) – in the context of something like Partial Objects. Seems like most people in India are pretty busy trying to achieve things (and I do mean “things” as well as power) as well. Hey, some of them are even getting rich selling religion and mythologies to the gullible (taking advantage of both Indians and Westerners)…funny how even the “holy” men all seem to be busy trying to “achieve” something, even the Dalai Lama is busy trying to achieve. (Though what he’s achieving from being on Masterchef Australia only his publicist knows.)

    • claudius says:

      This post has nothing to do with Buddhism. No Buddhist teaching propounds a doctrine of purposelessness; the author here seems to be advocating some sort of self-centered nihilism. Buddhists believe in the absence of an independently existing self and that the motivation for actions be altruism.

      As for your comments on class warfare, there have been political ideologies based on Marx and they have failed. Redistribution of wealth does not work because material wealth is not sufficient to cause happiness. If we go past our own sense of narcissism and self-centeredness and dedicate our lives for the benefit of others, we move towards real, lasting change. The real war for humanity is conquering our individual mental afflictions -eg hatred, greed, ignorance- on a large scale. This will require cooperation and dialogue between all sorts of nations and people. So yes, there’s a lot for people to be achieving.

      • Fifi says:

        claudius – Ah, but using a term like “the achieving mind” is instantly recognizable as coming from Buddhism (or perhaps Hindu, but since Buddhism is merely an evolution/offshoot of Hinduism with non-Indian flavors added, that’s not surprising), just as Christian references and philosophies make themselves apparent. There are lots of interpretations of Buddhism, just as there are Christianity and Islam, and the different sects do not all agree – so making grand claims about what is and isn’t Buddhism seems like it’s more about what you want to believe Buddhism is than what it actually is.

        How do you reconcile the Buddhist belief in reincarnation (of personalities intact with memories that are accorded a hierarchal privilege) with the idea that there is no “independently existing self”?

        • claudius says:

          I have been traveling, so my apologies for the late response.

          You seem to be equating Buddhism with Hinduism. The first mistake with this presumption is that there are literally thousands of forms of Hinduism with different interpretations of reality. The other mistake is that you can cross out all of the dualist Hindu schools off the list. There are some nondualist schools of Hinduism; these are the closest things to relatives to every school of Buddhism.

          Secondly, the differences between sects of Buddhism are mostly accorded to rigor of practitioners. The different “vehicles” of Buddhism are split up according to intensity in practice. E.g., if you had to get from Miami to Philadelphia, some people might prefer walking to driving, whereas others might prefer flying to driving. The risk one takes if she flies is that her plane can crash. The benefit is that she gets there faster.

          On the other hand, someone could be scared of all this business of cars and planes, and prefer walking. It might take longer but at least she would be safer (let’s assume there aren’t any bandits). So there are some people that argue you should walk, some argue that you should take a car, and some argue that you take a plane. But you’re all going to the same place.

          In the same way, all forms of Buddhism consider reality nondualistic. Nondualism means that subject and object are one; there is no separation. Our perception of the entire material Universe is a projection. We perceive separateness (“I” am separate from “you”), when in fact we are all of the same fabric of energy.

          The more practice-rigorous sects of Buddhism (e.g., Mahayana, Vajrayana) have altruistic motivation at their core. Practice-rigorous meaning what it says practitioners should be doing on paper.

          I’m not really sure what you mean by “with memories that are accorded a hierarchical privilege.”

          PS: If you do a quick google search on “achieving mind” you’ll discover it has a relatively recent origin that is not Buddhist.

  7. Fifi says:

    There’s a big difference between the mythology of Buddhism and the actual history (and reality) of Buddhism as a powerful religious institution. Just as there are differences between the altruistic aspects of Christian and Islamic beliefs and the realities of how these religions function as social and political institutions. We can apply the same standard of philosophy vs reality to political ideologies and find that the talk often doesn’t match up to the actual walk there too. Idealism wanders over into delusion whenever one ignores reality in favor of an imaginary ideal.

    I’m all for people getting to know and understand their own minds, I just don’t think religion is necessary to do so and find the mythologizing of Buddhism to counter-productive if the intent is to deal with reality. Knowing quite a few Buddhists, it doesn’t seem to be any kind of cure for narcissism from what I’ve seen (in fact, it can severely acerbate it in some cases). Certainly no more so than Christianity is at least. Being a kind, compassionate and prosocial person seems to have more to do with individuals (and who they integrally are) than with being a member of a certain religious group in my experience. Of course, your experience may be different and whatever form of Buddhism you ascribe to may indeed have helped you to be (or behave like) a kinder and more considerate person. If that’s the outcome for you as an individual, it sounds as if Buddhism has been a useful framework for you to change behavior so that you’re acting in a more prosocial way then I’m sure those around you appreciate the efforts your making and it’s likely to be more pleasant for you as well.

    • claudius says:

      Earlier we spoke of how wealth redistribution would not eliminate suffering, since you can improve one’s physical surroundings but this does not change their mental attitudes.

      In the same way, you can have the idea that a particular point of view, philosophy or belief system will end your suffering. Someone says “I am a wealth-distribution believer,” “I am a Buddhist” “I am a Kantian” but still behaves in exactly the same way as she always has. So there is no fundamental change in the person, although her “views” have changed. Really, she is just fooling herself. She is adding on another layer that prevents her from opening up to the world. The whole point of the practice is to strip away these layers, these masks and clothes and glass boxes we put on and around our selves that prevent us from genuinely interacting with others. When these layers are ripped away, we finally have the ability to interact with others with an open heart.

      The world is a big place. We need to appreciate it, respect it, and not become overly infatuated with our particular “way” such that we overlook its beauty.