Why progress is accompanied by distress …

We humans are naturally progress-seeking. The hope that tomorrow will be better than today is what fuels most of our endeavors. Indeed, it gives us a primary purpose to face life’s many challenges. 

Though progress is a universal and energizing human aspiration, it has in today’s world acquired a very specific and narrow conception. Thus, for example, progress is often measured primarily in terms of economic progress in terms of a nation’s GDP or an individual’s capacity to buy lifestyle products.

However, such a narrow conception of progress has had severe counterproductive effects psychologically.  Our society has an epidemic of loneliness, anxiety and depression. When we value material goods as life’s primary good or even the sole good, then we prioritize things over people, thereby neglecting relationships and courting loneliness. We lament over the material goods that we weren’t able to achieve in the past and thus succumb to depression; we worry ourselves often to death about losing the material goods that we have. These consequences are probable, even inevitable, with a materialistic worldview. The Bhagavad-gita (16.09) cautions that rampant materialism engenders actions that destroy the world and destroy the self.

If we are to find a corrective for the psychological wasteland that we have created, we need to re-examine our definition of progress. Maybe we need to expand the definition to include or to even center on spiritual progress, whereby the improvement of individual consciousness is given due importance. Only through such inner enrichment can we have a steady foundation for making the changes necessary to counter negative emotions. If we are mature enough to consider such a redefinition of progress, Gita wisdom stands as a ready resource to lead us to holistic growth and happiness. 

One-sentence summary:

If our aspiration for progress is to lead to happiness, we need to expand our definition of progress. 

Think it over:

  • How are we humans innately progress-seeking?
  • Why does equating progress with material progress lead to psychological distress?
  • How can we progress holistically?

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