According to Freud, sex was the primary motivation driving humans. It seems that in the modern capitalist world, sex has been equaled by money, along with power. So money, power and sex drive the ego, and generally, the more we have of them, the happier we are. But is this an illusion of happiness? The rich aren't really any happier than the average American is and according to numerous studies having more money can only buy temporary happiness, like the way a drug can. Happiness comes from a multitude of conditions. In the documentary Happy by director Roko Belic, it analyzes several metrics to gauge the happiness of people. First there are extrinsic goals. These would include things like, money, image and social status. These are contrasted with intrinsic goals. These would include things like personal growth, relationships, and the desire to help. Intrinsic goals are said to be in and of themselves rewarding because they relate to intrinsic psychological needs we all have and can thus more easily produce a state of happiness.
With these two types of goals pursued by many people, it's not hard to see how putting too much emphasis on extrinsic goals toward happiness can lead to problems because extrinsic goals are ego driven. For me it hasn't really been money so much, but I've spent quite a lot time obsessing over my image and social status. Getting just the right look, with just the right clothes, and making sure that my social status is high enough up in the hierarchy have all been very important concerns I've had, and I have had many periods of depression when it just doesn't seem to be working out. My last job for example drove me crazy because, I couldn't fit in with the people I worked with and sort of became the social outcast. I hated this social status and it resulted in massive depression, for which massive amounts of alcohol was prescribed.
The kind of happiness that derives from intrinsic goals, is clearly where the emphasis should be put. They can not only produce happiness, they have positive gains for society when put to practice. The pleasure obtained from helping others and bettering one's life and relationships is incredibly rewarding for good reason.
But this leads us back to square one, which is the problem of the ego driven life. How do I reconcile my unhealthy extrinsic goals towards happiness with the more beneficial intrinsic goals when the extrinsic goals are so powerful in their lure? Well for one thing I could squash my ego and pretend it doesn't exist. In Zen the ego is an illusion, it doesn't properly exist. But Zen also teaches of the "middle path". And since there is no dogmatic approach to Buddhism, I am free to interpret Buddhism how I please and where ever I see fit.
Using the middle way, perhaps a careful check of my ego driven pursuits with in the extrinsic goals is preferred rather than taking such extreme measures as abolishing it altogether. I know that keeping one's ego in check is not an easy task. It requires a constant reminder, and humility. I'm not the kind of person who worships money and materialism so I might have a head start over others wishing a more moderate path towards happiness and fulfillment. I'm not about to give away all my possessions and go meditate in a cave for the rest of my life. I want to live in the modern world, with its amenities and conveniences, and yes I want to look good and have a decent social status. But what I cannot do, is let myself obsess over these things to such a degree that they drive my life. And I must balance them out equally, if not more, with healthy pursuits of trying to be who I really am, building closer relationships with my friends and loved ones, and wanting and committing myself towards the help of others.