The Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, following others, characterizes the American predicament this way: our definition of human flourishing has become so self-centered, that chronic dissatisfaction and pervasive despair are the result.
As Volf tells the story, it wasn’t always like this. In another time, human flourishing was conceived to be inseparable from loving and giving glory to God. The Westminster catechism comes to mind: Q. What is the chief end of man? A. To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. In this understanding of who the human being is, human flourishing is unintelligible if severed from transcendence. Right relationship to the goods of this world depends on our right relationship with the Transcendent One.
Then came humanism, and the disconnect from God. Human flourishing was defined in strictly human terms, without reference to divinity. There was still a connection to transcendence, however: instead of that transcendence being grounded in giving glory to God, it was now grounded in ideals like universal brotherhood/sisterhood, or the society of a commonwealth, or universal human rights. While disconnected from God, these ideals were still larger than the solitary self– still transcendent, in that sense.
Finally– and Volf traces this final movement to the last 30-50 years– the notion of human flourishing collapsed into the solitary self itself: collapsed into the pursuit of pleasure, and the individual experience of satisfaction. Inevitably, dissatisfaction, melancholy, and despair follow, when human flourishing becomes disconnected from some kind of self-transcendence. The solitary self is a poor repository for ultimate meaning.