Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Happiness As A Moral Obligation

Good food for thought in this Dennis Prager column.


Given [the] association of evil with unhappy people, it is quite remarkable how little attention is paid to happiness as a moral, rather than only a personal psychological issue. Too often the pursuit of happiness (not the pursuit of fun or excitement) is regarded as a selfish pursuit, when in fact it is one of the best things a person can do for everyone in his life and for the world at large. The Founders of America were brilliant in many ways, not more so than by enshrining that pursuit alongside the pursuit of life and liberty.

It is therefore worth noticing how little thought is given to the question of happiness in attempting to understand the roots of evil and in seeking ways to improve the world.


One of the sadder revelations as one gets older is seeing how often psychological problems determine behavior.

When my book on happiness first came out in 1999, I was interviewed on dozens of talk shows. In almost every case, the interviewer asked me, "So you write that we have a moral obligation to be happy -- what do you mean?"

The notion that happiness (or at least acting happy) is a debt we owe to all those in our lives and even to society at large is foreign to the vast majority of people. Yet, the more time I have devoted to writing and lecturing on this issue, the more I have come to realize that this is indeed the case. Ask anyone who was raised by an unhappy parent; ask anyone married to a chronically unhappy person; ask any worker whose co-worker is moody what their life is like and you will readily understand the moral obligation to be as happy as one can be.

Polls consistently show Republicans and religiously active Jews and Christians to be happier than Democrats and secular Americans. In light of the above, what does the preceding tell us about the good each group is likely to achieve?

[I can well imagine the leftist reaction to the above paragraph: "This is an OUTRAGE!!! Of course Repugs and Christers are happier! They're exploiting and oppressing everyone!!!" I'd only have to say that such a thought proves the point, and that it's interesting that the leftist would associate exploiting and oppressing with happiness. Perhaps that's what the leftist MEANS by the "pursuit of happiness".]

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