Monday, March 06, 2006

Thoughts on "The Pursuit of Happiness"

"The U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself." -- Benjamin Franklin

"A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to let alone." -- Henry David Thoreau

"Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day." -- Benjamin Franklin

"Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind." -- Thomas Jefferson

"Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits." -- Thomas Jefferson

"To the discontented man, no chair is easy." -- Benjamin Franklin

See also Why The Americans Are So Restless In The Midst Of Their Prosperity (Alexis DeTocqueville)

Extracts from
Whether People Define Themselves as Happy Depends on the Era
by Cynthia Crossen, March 6, 2006

Perhaps because the Declaration of Independence staked out the pursuit of happiness as one of three unalienable rights of humans, Americans seem particularly vexed when their happiness is thwarted. Indeed, in the 19th century, Americans filed hundreds of lawsuits in federal and state courts accusing the government and fellow citizens of impeding their sacred right to happiness...

America's earliest settlers, like their Old World forebears, were suspicious of happiness that wasn't associated with morality and Christianity.

Americans never stop thinking of the good things they have not got, Tocqueville wrote. No one could work harder to be happy than Americans, until finally, "Death steps in ... and stops him before he has grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes him."

The word "happy" is derived from an Old Norse word, happ, meaning chance or luck; the word "hapless," from the same root, means unfortunate. Until the past two centuries, happiness was considered a gift of God or the gods; people could pursue it, but they couldn't control it, and they certainly couldn't will it.

That notion also changed in the 20th century, as attaining happiness became a question of mind over matter. In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale's bestselling book, "The Power of Positive Thinking," declared, "You can think your way to success and happiness."

The idea that people can engineer their own happiness with the right combination of material and emotional goods has a corollary: Those who are unhappy have failed. As Mr. McMahon writes, "For a society in which the unhindered pursuit of happiness is treated as a natural, God-given right, the inability to make steady progress along the way will inevitably be seen as an aberration, a suspension of the natural order of things." ...

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At 6:37 PM, Blogger kraig said...

why did you leave a rude comment on my blog? i don't even know you.

At 12:30 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

A friend and I were talking about happiness last week, and she told me that she'd read that there have been studies about it that how that circumstances have very little to do with it. In the study, people's levels of happiness were measured before and after a big event, like winning the lottery or having an accident, and six months (or was it a year?) after the incident, the levels were back to the same as they were before. Happiness is GENETIC. Or something.

This makes sense to me. I seem to spend a lot of time being unreasonably happy.

But I do think there's more to it, though. I think it is also a matter of attitude, and attitudes can change.


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