We tend to think of happiness as just reaching success and defining success as just obtaining wealth and pleasure, while essentially minimizing pain. Those individuals would want us to realize that we have to first understand ourselves and what our goals and ends are, for if we are working for the sake of just obtaining means to ends, we find ourselves in a state where our work is meaningless.
Several, ultimately futile possibilities exist on both the individual and social levels for at least temporarily denying meaninglessness and its associated depression. One strategy is to return to our primary instincts. The pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim describe the failure of culture as deculturation, a state, he said, that reduces its victims to the animal level of chronic fighting or fornication. If I find direction or meaning neither in culture nor in more self-conscious attempts to answer the why questions, then I may find solace in my body, emotions, and pure, unmediated experience. From the perspective of these strategies, meaninglessness is not the problem; thinking self-consciously is the problem. Avoid or deny the questions, concede that you are nothing more than an instinctual animal in an indifferent universe, and you've solved the problem. Alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual obsessions, and adventurousness — in which meaning remains, but only while engaged in extreme and risky activities, including violence — have all been attributed to misguided and finally self-destructive attempts to suppress the question of meaning by drowning in instinctual behavior. (14-15)
Having progressively rejected the guidance and authority of revelation, community, tradition, and reason, freedom becomes a burden, and we have the absurd situation of being free to choose anything we wish but having no choices worth making.
Knowing neither what we must do nor what we should do, nor even what we wish to do, Fromm argues, we typically look for clues by watching what others do, or willingly abdicate the burden of freedom by reverting to the authority of others, whether the latest guru, pop celebrity, or political leader. Conformity and authoritarianism are thus collective strategies for relieving the anxiety that absolute freedom elicits. We willingly exchange our anxiety and freedom for compulsive activity and the answers provided by others.