The pursuit of happiness

In honor of tomorrow’s Independence Day, this Sunday’s sermon focused on the lines from the Declaration of Independence that say that all men are created equal and that among our inalienable rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The minister wondered what the Founding Fathers meant by happiness.  “Is it material happiness?” he asked.

Few writers on the topic will claim material success is the key to happiness, but beyond that agreement, they are all over the map about what they believe happiness is.  Many think, as our minister did, that giving to others through volunteering provides the basis for happiness.  Others suggest that happiness consists of having peace of mind, finding meaning in life, loving others, reaching goals, appreciating what we have, feeling self-love and respect, or being able to deal effectively with our problems.

The minister said that in Bhutan they measure the country’s success not in terms of Gross National Product (GNP), but in Gross National Happiness (GNH).  GNH indicators, which are measured through surveys of the population, include psychological well-being, environment, health, education, culture, living standards, community vitality, good governance and time use.

On the Centre for Bhutan Studies website there are descriptions of each of these indicators.  As a retiree the time use studies caught my attention.  The point of these is to identify changes in work habits and patterns, increases or decreases in child labor, and other signs that suggest the government should adjust its economic policies.  I’m sharing excerpts from a quote off this website that is worthy our attention:

Time use studies provide information on work life balance of individuals in society… Imbalance in time allocation between work and other activities is caused by a number of factors amongst which the increased number of work hours is the most prominent. An increase in work hours, in turn, is…caused by one’s desire to make more money. Money becomes the focus or the driving force behind long hours of work to many individuals. These individuals exaggerate the importance of money to their well-being…As they devote more time to work they do not find time to do things that they enjoy…

It looks like the Centre for Bhutan Studies is describing life in the U.S.  Let’s hope the Bhutanese can figure out a way to help their citizens avoid this trap without having to retire first.

It should be clear by now that happiness is a difficult state of mind to define or describe. But then maybe we shouldn’t try to analyze it.  We know it when we feel it.

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About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness.
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