What is the secret to happiness?
I’ve been watching videos on this topic by Arthur Brooks via the American Enterprise Institute, after someone sent me a video called “Don’t Eat Your Dog”. No, I wasn’t considering nor interested in cooking up my pug (though when the pantry is bare, her fat rolls do look plump and delicious), and it wasn’t attached to an email from my shrink. The reason I was sent the video, and the reason why this is so fascinating, is that it makes the most important case for economic freedom. I’d like to share some data from these videos and throw in some of my thoughts, because I find the information overwhelmingly relevant and crucial to the liberty argument.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Well gee, Thomas Jefferson! How elegantly worded! It’s almost like you ripped off the name of a Will Smith movie at the end there. Don’t think nobody noticed.
So, the pursuit of happiness. The phrase in question. What does it mean?
“Pursuing happiness is not some silly notion of chasing after that which puts a smile on one’s face. It is a real, concrete philosophical notion which means something much deeper. Some have proposed that the term really means pursuing virtue and morality.” –Chadwick
In one of the videos I watched, data from a University of Chicago social survey was shared that didn’t exactly surprise me. If you take two people who are basically the same in regards to age, sex, race, and religion, that both say they have earned their success, but one earns 8 times as much as the second, they are equally likely to say that they are very happy with their lives.
We’ve been taught our whole lives that “money doesn’t buy happiness”. Well, this proves it true– but happiness is also not free.
I reject the notion that “money is evil”. While you can have success without the reward being in cold hard cash, the currency isn’t something to demonize. Money is obtained by selling your personal labor (something you own), and is then exchanged for other things that may also directly bring you happiness. Not the items you buy, but tools you may invest in to provide means to earn happiness for yourself.
Now, the dilemma of taxing the rich is relevant here. Though money is not happiness, it could be represented as a currency. If their labor has been equally exchanged for a dollar amount, and that labor is the pursuit of their happiness, the money is also the pursuit of their happiness. So let’s go back to the Declaration of Independence for a minute:
“When the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence, they never envisioned a redistribution of happiness; they never envisioned taking from the more happy to give to the less happy so that there was an equal distribution of happiness, all carefully redistributed through the Department of Happiness. The Founders merely and rightfully thought that Americans had a right to pursue happiness, and within a capitalist system, some would pursue it successfully and others not so.” –Chadwick
Is wealth redistribution actually moving around happiness? No, you can’t use wealth to dictate who is happy because happiness isn’t money– the happiness comes from the pursuit, and can only be present if the pursuit actually happens. The pursuit cannot be carried out by another, it has to come from the receiver of the happiness. So we are literally taking happiness (money) as the result of a pursuit (work) from another, and giving to someone who has not earned it, in an ironically sad attempt to make them happier with their lives. But there’s tons of data to show how this is all backwards. A sort of safety net or welfare system may be effective in helping people acquire the financial ability to allow them earn their success later, but what we have going on now is not creating this desired outcome. It is being abused to the point of becoming a lifestyle, but money (what many people believe is happiness) without the pursuit creates a statistically unhappy, entitled mindset.
I’ve written about this before, but it is at the core of every problem we face as a society. The mindset of the masses. “What do I deserve?” You deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, so does your relatively wealthy neighbor. His work is his pursuit, and the money is success, and perhaps happiness. What is the government to take that from him by force? Is that not unconstitutional? Additionally, he may be rich but not happy. The data as presented in the video shows that if the man is earning his money, he is more likely to identify as happy with his life. However, if next door you are poor but do non profit volunteering for charities and achieve a feeling of success in the form of your affect on others, you are also more likely to identify as happy.
Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a laptop, which you may believe is the same thing. However, what do you do with the laptop? Right now, I am writing this post for my blog. It isn’t this material object making me happy, it is the success I will achieve after the work I do with it. However, the laptop itself was instant happiness for me as well, because the purchase was a success as the result of my slaving away at Dairy Queen. It is the new American mindset of entitlement that will be the death of happy in our country. It will also be the death of our country. A welfare state seeks to spread wealth around in hopes of helping people achieve happiness. It doesn’t, though, make them pursue it. We aren’t constitutionally guaranteed happiness in life, we are guaranteed that pursuit. What wealth redistribution does is destroy the need and desire to earn things. If someone doesn’t realize that the way for them to be truly happy is working for what they want rather than being given what they want, and we just give them what they want, is that cruel? Are we not robbing them of their pursuit of happiness?
So the reason why Pharrell is happy is because he earned his success. He’s clapping along because he’s built a name for himself in the fashion business and has launched clothing lines, a series of jewelry, and worked in furniture design. He’s also building a $35 million after school center in his hometown Virginia Beach, and started a charity for youth between the ages of 7 and 20 in at risk communities throughout the country. I bet that makes him happy, and provides help to those who can now achieve happiness for themselves.
I want all Americans to be happy. How do we achieve this? Let them earn success.
The secret to happiness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDH4mzsQP0w