The authors of our sacred Declaration of Independence use the well-known phase, “Pursuit of Happiness” as an appropriate political euphemism for the “Pursuit of Selfishness.” The settlers of the North American territory that became the United States of America were mostly common folks seeking liberty and the freedom to worship as they pleased. Their motivation for coming to this country was to improve their destiny. If doing that made them happy, so much the better. The search for what may be loosely defined as happiness has many strange objectives, most of which drive individuals to attempt to obtain control over the circumstances that can restrict their freedom and make them miserable.
“If you follow my specific instructions and do exactly as I have told you, I’ll be very pleased,” said a very strict parent. Maybe that parent was yours. A favorite teacher of mine told our class, “If you study hard and reason carefully as you’ve been taught in my class, you’ll make me very happy and receive a good grade on your report card.” Mischievous kids will think twice about disobeying when they are threatened with: “I’ll give you something to cry about” or “The next time I’ll beat you within an inch of your life.” The older generation always wants the younger one to be respectful, unselfish, and law-abiding.
Similar commands are indelibly etched in my memory, and they provide some insight into why we feel that we should endeavor to please authority figures. These influential people in our lives strive to inculcate in each of us a sense of obligation for their welfare and the welfare of others. Although obeying the rules can make others happy with our behavior, some audacious people are only pleased with themselves when they are taking risks or challenging authority.
Individual humans desperately want to have what they desire, and these desires are for specific things and for indulging their insatiable appetites in activities that will amuse them or please them. They expect to have enough freedom to do what they choose, and with luck, an exemption from any sort of penalty or punishment for doing something egregious or unlawful.
The pursuit of happiness that supposedly motivates young and old Americans alike is the search for activities, possessions, status, and money to feel good about one’s accomplishments in life. Assuming a person is born without rich parents, that fellow or gal has to become educated and experienced enough to find lucrative employment somewhere in order to climb the staircase that leads to material “well-being” and some experiences that result in emotional “highs.” In that arduous climb, most humans learn to follow social guidelines and to obey established procedures.
Control or power over others usually brings many opportunities for obtaining adequate financial rewards to be able to purchase whatever your heart desires. In any capitalistic society where freedom of choice is as aggressively promoted as it is in the United States, the youth are exposed to the philosophy that delaying gratification can make you unhappy with your situation in life. As a consequence, the availability of all kinds of credit schemes has promoted the philosophy of acquiring what you want NOW!
Happiness is a volatile human emotion that escapes many individuals despite their constant pursuit of it. Achieving that pleasurable feeling usually results from seeking and attaining some particular end from the limited number of options available to a human being. The various ends that a human pursues are selfishly selected from the wide assortment of things and activities that society offers its members provided they have met the legal requirements to become eligible to choose. Many limitations are related to age and the ability to pay for the services rendered, the items acquired, and the amusements chosen.
As much as we would like to see other folks happy with their lives, we know that their moments of happiness are temporary, fleeting even. The most humans can hope for is good health, a sufficient amount of the essential chemicals in food and water to maintain an active lifestyle, and some trusted friends to share the rigors of trying to survive in the modern world. Possessing these minimum requirements may or may not make a person happy. However, anything else like having abundant electricity, clean drinking water, warmth in winter and A/C in summer, and time off for a vacation is just the frosting of the cake they are used to eating.
The chemical imbalance that causes humans to feel euphoria or depression is the real culprit. We need to find a better way to discipline the processing of chemicals in the body so that more humans can feel happier more of the time – even when they aren’t pursuing their selfish desires. Since the experts dealing with chemical dependency and irregularity haven’t found a way to do that accurately and consistently, I will suggest in my next musing another approach to reining in the pursuit of selfishness.
To be continued.