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.
Americans are an unhappy, unhealthy lot. From the moment we declared our independence from the domination of British rule, we have included the people’s right to pursue happiness as one of the primary privileges of our citizens and the responsibility of our government. Life and liberty are addressed to one degree or another by our executive, legislative and judicial branches, but our potential for happiness has lagged far behind.
As the quote above says (and does not say), freedom was once the province of white men; now the lack of that freedom and the subsequent loss of the potential for happiness belongs to all of us. Our happiness is kept from us by prisonlike schools and meaningless jobs, un(der)employment and untreated physical and psychological ailments, by political leaders who scare the votes out of us and corporate “persons” that buy up all the resources that have been created and defined by our labor.
Citizens are not treated like members of society but more like employees who can be cut loose for any reason large or small, whether that reason be an individual action or some greater event like the downturn of the stock market. We are lied to by our leaders and the mass media to such a great extent that it’s almost impossible to lay a finger on one thing that we can say, unequivocally, is true. We wage a “war on drugs” while our psychiatrists prescribe mood-altering medicines at an alarming rate. We eat and drink and smoke too much, and sleep too little. We worry about health and taxes and the stock market until one of the three finally drags us down. We fall for all sorts of get-rich-quick schemes, from the stock market to the lottery. We practice rampant consumerism, launch perpetual wars and seek out meaningless sex.
Through these studies we create aberrant citizens who glean their empty and impossible hopes from television, the Internet and stadium sports. These issues, and others, form the seat of our discontent, a throne of nails under a crown of thorns.
Happiness is considered by most to be a subset of wealth, which is not necessarily true. But even if it was true, most Americans are not wealthy, and most of those who are will lose that wealth before they die. Besides, money cannot buy happiness. It can buy bigger TVs and comelier sex partners; it can pay for liposuction and enough fossil fuel to speed away from smog-filled urban sprawls. Money can influence court verdicts, but it cannot buy justice. And without the bedrock of justice, how can any American citizen be truly happy?
Happiness is a state of mind cultivated under a sophisticated understanding of a rapidly changing world. In times gone by the world didn’t change so fast. As recently as the early twentieth century it would take a generation or more for knowledge to double; now the sum total of our knowledge doubles each year, perhaps even less than that. As technology and technique change, so does our world and our reactions to it. The Internet, gene-splicing, transportation, overpopulation and other vast areas of ever-growing knowledge and experience force significant changes in our lifestyles every few years.