It is becoming more and more difficult for me to watch any form of television news. The other day I was in a doctor’s office and one of the 24-hour cable news channels was blaring from the waiting room television. They cited an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune that asked the rhetorical question, “Why are we so miserable?“ The commentators when on to cite gas prices, a down economy, the war in Iraq, inflationary fears, declining home values, and the rising costs of health care and food all as sources of our collective misery. I surveyed the waiting room and several people were silently nodding their heads in agreement.
Over the next hour or so every single news segment presented had a negative slant. They documented families passing up on vacation because of high gas prices. They found a couple out and about who were all too happy to tell us about their mounting credit card debt, and falling home value. I’m not naive to think that people are not really impacted by all these economic factors, but I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be more responsible for our own happiness. When did we turn the job of making ourselves happy over to politicians and media pundits?
The Pursuit of Happiness
Our founding fathers had it right when they documented our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. They did not guarantee our happiness, but guaranteed our freedom to go after the things that made us happy. The execution of that plan would be up to us, but we now look to others to create happiness for us.
I am happy. My family is happy. There is little anyone in Washington, or in the media, could do or say to change that. From a broader perspective, we are fortunate to live in an era of unprecedented personal wealth with high salaries, a healthy job market and access to one of the finest health care systems in the world. That’s not to say our systems are without flaws, but when compared to other parts of the world, or other periods of history, we have it pretty well off. I am free to move my family from one corner of the country to the other if we so desired. I make a choice every morning about where I get up and go to work. And if I find myself hating that job I am free to go look for another job that I love. If I can’t find one I am free to work from home, be a full time parent, or start my own business. I was provided public education through the 12th grade, and given all the opportunities that went along with it to learn and participate in extra-curricular clubs and sports. I freely chose where to attend to college, who I married, where to buy a home, what type of car to drive, and what programming I watch on television (a shrinking list, these days).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that we as Americans take many of these freedoms and opportunities for granted. As a society we’ve survived civil war, two world wars, a great depression, recessions, real estate bubbles, gas shortages, and terrorist attacks on our country and our interests worldwide. We will survive these rough times as well. We will persevere. It may take a little longer to bounce back than the most impatient of us would like, but it will happen, eventually.
Are You Better Off than You Were Eight Years Ago?
The media likes to ask this question in the frame of a dig against the lame duck occupant in the oval office. No one is spared, regardless of their political party affiliation. But it is a ridiculous question when you think about it. Are you better off now than you were eight years ago? Yes, I am. In eight years I’ve been blessed with two wonderful children, made a career change to a more enjoyable line of work, relocated to a new city, earned raises from my employer, returned to school to finish my undergraduate education, and enjoyed the development of new technologies. Those sources of my happiness had very little, if anything, to do with what is happening in Washington, D.C.
And if I had answered no, I am not better off today than I was eight years ago, who would I have to blame? I guess I could start with myself. If I had not pursued the completion of my education I may not have been able to change jobs, move to a new city, and enjoy salary increases along the way. If I had not married my soul mate I would not have been blessed with two wonderful kids. These moves did not come without sacrifice. We racked up some debt to cover the additional costs of my attending school. I spent many nights away from my family sitting in a classroom (until I discovered the joys of online education). I stuck it out at a job I didn’t like because I needed the benefits and earnings to pursue my education because I knew it was the path to something better. I spent many weekends locked away in a study room at a local library preparing for tests, writing papers, and reading monotonous text books. I could have simply given up. I could have skipped all forms of reading and learning, and been content coming home from my dead-end job and parking myself in front of the television for six hours watching mindless television programs. But I was too busy pursuing happiness, and thankfully I found it.