“The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself”
– Benjamin Franklin
We all know the below famous line from the US Declaration of Independence –
“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”
What is Pursuit of Happiness and what the Founding Fathers of USA meant by it?
Happiness is such a subjective human emotion and differs from person to person. For example running a marathon can make one person happy while it can be a nightmare for another. With such diversity, how can such a relative term make it into the founding document of a nation? What were the founding fathers thinking? Here is how they interpreted happiness
Thomas Jefferson – “The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue” and “[w]ithout virtue, happiness cannot be.”
George Washington – “There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness” and “[h]uman happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.”
Benjamin Franklin – “virtue and happiness are mother and daughter” and “without virtue man can have no happiness in this world.”
It is very interesting to note the commonality in the interpretation of happiness above. It simply meant right to pursue leading a virtuous life which in those days meant religious and ethical life. Note it is not a right to happiness but a right to ‘pursue’ Happiness.
So what is Happiness?
Science of happiness is a favorite subject and here are some of the notes from my journal that I have collected from multiple sources over time such as online courses, books, talks, blogs, research papers, etc.
Definition of Happiness –
“Subjective well-being I feel inside myself; a sense of either immediate pleasure OR long-term contentment with the way my life is going”
Summary of findings from the last couple of decades of scientific study –
Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions such as health, wealth or society. Rather happiness depends above all on the correlation of expectations and conditions i.e. if you get what you expect, you are more happier. Objective conditions such as wealth and power can cause deep unhappiness if the expectations are too high.
Absolute Happiness is not good for economy –
Mass media and markets work to make sure we are not happy and contented for a long time by exposing us to new and better things and raising our expectations all the time. That keeps the economy going and creates jobs and helps pay taxes.
It’s not Greed but Envy that kills Happiness –
People always compare themselves with others and this tendency is observed even at a macro level. For example, people in Egypt were much better-off under the regime of Hosni Mubarak as compared to the Pharos regime. Child mortality, health conditions, infrastructure, access to technology / information etc. were much better compared to their ancestors but still they revolted and were very unhappy only because they compared themselves with other developed countries i.e. increased their expectations in relation to developed countries and not compared themselves with their ancestors.
Evolution has designed us not to be always happy and not to be always sad –
From a life science perspective, happiness is caused by biochemical reactions within the body and are not caused by any external factors. Winning a lottery, falling in love, buying an expensive house, etc. do not cause happiness. Happiness is caused by “Pleasant Bodily Sensations”. These bodily sensations last for a very short time.
Happy people vs. Depressed people –
Humans sense of happiness is compared to Air Conditioner… the goal of the air conditioner is to keep the temperature constant within the range of external temperature changes. i.e. temperature outside can sometimes be 70 F and in the night can be 50 F but the air conditioner, lets say tries to maintain the temperature around 65 F always.
Similarly different people have different ranges of happiness and their internal biochemical system tries to maintain the levels at their own constant… for e.g. on a scale of 0 to 10 some may fluctuate between 5 and 9 levels and will strive to maintain 7 thereby being more cheerful than others. Similarly some may have a range of 1 to 6 and maintain level 3 thereby being depressive and gloomy.
People don’t know what makes them happy –
People just copy others and believe what others tell them makes them happy. Media, marketing and stories drive our sense of happiness. In an experiment, people demonstrated spending time with their children as the least measure of happiness while when you ask them, they tend to rate time spent with their children very high on the scale.
Some more Happiness experiments’ findings –
- Money and marriage have positive correlation to happiness to an extent. Kids not so much
- When choices are taken out of a situation, people tend to be more happy
- We tend to be wrong about what gives us happiness in the future
- Most important thing for happiness is Social Connectedness. Scientifically, happiness is contagious, it spreads through social contact
Critical Skills you need to be Happy –
There are many but here are the top 3 that give biggest bang for the buck
- Gratitude – Practicing gratitude is the most important skill to be happy… gratitude for small things such as availability of clean drinking water, warm water to take shower, clean bed to sleep on etc. helps build the happiness muscle
- Give / Care – It’s not receiving but giving or caring that has positive long-term effects on happiness
- Physical Exercise – Biochemically helps enhance happiness significantly
Pursue Happiness – Happy 4th of July!.