Participation in society: necessity and risk to experience happiness

Mark_Wand_klein     By Dr. Mark Ritzen

Participation in society is generally regarded as an important condition for experiencing happiness. We develop ourselves in dialogue with those around us, within society. We are embedded in society; in a family, a village, a political system, a religion, a sub culture, a culture, a system of values, ideas, norms,……..

The society in which we are living (and especially our closest social environment) defines what we have to do/ how we have to behave and how we have to look, to be regarded as a successful person.

While growing up in this “social nutritive matrix” , we take decisions, make choices, let us inspire by others, exchange warmth, compassion, love, compete and while doing that we progressively find and develop our identity, our resources, our limits, our “value” in all thinkable ways. Furthermore, we develop dreams how/ who we want to be, who and what we want to have around us,….in resonance with our individual resources (given by nature and nurture) and as a result of inspiration by the surrounding society we define values, targets, goals, visions that are highly attractive to us (ideal-self),…We try to reach up to them all our live; we try to live them every day.

But what if we find out that we cannot reach them? What if there is a too large gap between our ideal-self and our true self. What if we have neglected our individual resources/ambitions/ nature and too much of our ideal-self has been nourished by society defined ideals?

What if our resources have other qualities than those needed to reach our (perhaps more society-defined) goals?

Can we adapt our goals that have been developed over more than a decade and that are in harmony with a specific social environment (for example our parental house)?

Can we accept other goals, which are more in harmony with our individual nature/ resources?

Can we be that strong in the social environment in which we live that we progressively live other values, more in harmony with ourselves but possible in disharmony with the environment?

Are we prepared to pay the price of eventual devaluation if we have to size down or adapt our ambitions within the social environment in which we live?

Can we support a feeling of devaluation until we have discovered that there is a lot of value in the new ambitions, which are more in harmony with our individual nature?



Too large discrepancies between a person’s individual nature/ resources on one hand and his ideal-self on the other or a wide gap between his nature/ resources and the requirements of the society in which he lives can create a very significant and stress-causing tension. This might lead to a feeling of disconnection with society, isolation, stigmatisation and even clinically relevant symptoms like low self esteem, fatigue, sleeplessness, restlessness, irritability, hopelessness, pain, feelings of insufficiency, anger, sadness, anxiety, exhaustion…..


Participating in society also means that you will have to deal with a variety of daily to do’s.

The quality, quantity and size of those daily to do’s changes in the course of time and varies between different cultures and sub-cultures.

Being an active member in society, taking initiatives, organizing a complex, rich and varied life, increasing your connections, showing that you exist…..that you live, causes a certain visibility that is often used as a measurement (parameter) for successfulness.


But does participating by “doing” / “showing that you live” also result to a feeling that you live?

Do we still take time for being in our daily life? Do we grant ourselves enough space to look, to hear, to feel, to sense,… to experience? Who am I, Where am I standing in my life, where do I want to go to?

Can we really meet people around us in a rich and profound way (“Begegnung”)

Can we really experience the beauty of Nature around us? Do we give ourselves enough space to experience the profound joy of being touched by art?


In the western world there seems to be an overestimation of the value of doing things. We are so much trained in doing things, so much used “to do” all possible kind of activities that we often tend to forget the importance of the experience of “being”.

The experience of “being” gives us peace, equilibrium, harmony and profundity in our lives. I think that the experience of “being” is one of the most important conditions for experiencing happiness.

While being busy all the time and “doing” things permanently, we might forget too long the importance of “being”. This unconscious neglect of self-care might cause a feeling of loneliness, emptiness, frustration; an incomprehensible profound feeling of unhappiness although we are participating to society in countless ways.

Since the early seventies, clinical psychology and psychiatry rediscovered in a certain way the importance of “being” for experiencing happiness and a large number of therapeutic applications, based on “mindfulness” have been developed.

Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.

Meanwhile, an impressive number of studies have demonstrated that mindfulness based therapies can be very helpfull in reducing stress, improving the quality of life and in improving certain psychiatric disorders (like anxiety- and depressive disorders) and pain.

In their book: “Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world” Professor Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman explain the importance of giving “being” more space in our lives. Furthermore they propose an eight-week program with several very nice (and easy to learn) exercises


Dr. Mark Ritzen – Psychiatrist

View his profile on Medihoo HERE