The Trap of "Me" Centered Modernity

Many of us are haunted by our "selves." Caught in the the cul de sacs of our egos we slowly sink into pools of anxiety about me, I and mine.

Here is an interesting essay about the nature of happiness and how we measure it: by our own isolated standards or - another possibility - by the standards of human potential.


The modern person starts with questioning his or her own well-being. Kierkegaard starts with questioning how the person is living up to the standards of being a human being. Here lies the quintessential difference. It’s something that is extremely hard to truly understand for the modern person—the person who has always been taught to ask himself: “How do I feel?”, “Am I happy?”, “Would I like my life to change?”. The irony is that by asking these exact kinds of questions, the modern person might make him or herself unhappy.

When they always start with ME, the modern person runs the risk of never really leaving ME. Instead they constantly circle in and around themselves. The circling, the never-ending questions, the half-heartedness of not really wanting to live this life, and instead being stuck in endless intellectual chains of questions, is what Kierkegaard writes and revolts against. The self-absorption of the never-ending questions is a capital sin in Kierkegaard’s universe.

Kierkegaard is a Christian thinker, but he is also an existentialist thinker, and his texts can be read to benefit both the religious and the non-religious reader. However, the very different starting-point of asking not about YOUR happiness, but about how you live up to human standards, has religious roots. Whether we are believers or not, we can learn from paying attention to the messages stemming from these roots.

Kierkegaard explicitly shows these roots when he quotes the Sermon on the Mount in one of his famous non-pseudonymous texts The Lily of the Field, The Bird of the Air. His text explains how we can learn joy from the lily and the bird as they are in no opposition to being who they are. They are not haunted by the endless intellectual questions of human life – nor the worry about the day of tomorrow. That, argues Kierkegaard, is joy. It is the precise living picture of joy because the question about self is not present for them.

Read the entire essay.