From the beginning of the country known as the United States of America, the pursuit of happiness has been a national goal. At least those words are part of the Declaration of Independence.
What constitutes happiness, though, and how it is to be achieved are not immediately evident. But there have been many widespread studies about happiness, and various happiness indexes have been devised.
Partly on the basis of some of these indicating that “the world is getting happier,” Zack Beauchamp claimed that 2013 was the best year ever, as I wrote about in a recent blog posting.
For example, the Legatum Institute has developed a “prosperity index” of the world’s countries. On the basis of that index, which is “a mixture of traditional economic indicators alongside measurements of well-being and life satisfaction,” the world’s happiest (and saddest) countries are listed in a recent Forbes article.
In support of Beauchamp, happiness (or at least prosperity) has increased worldwide in the five years the Legatum Institute has been doing its research. (And in 2013, according to this index, the U.S. is the 11th happiest country in the world; Canada is third and Japan is 21st.)
More significantly, a lengthy (150+ pages) U.N.-related “World Happiness Report” was released last fall. One online article about that report is titled, “Is the world becoming a happier place? Contentment has nudged up around the globe, UN report says.” (According to this study, the U.S. is the 17th happiest country, one place behind Mexico.)
The latter report’s rankings are based on a “life evaluation score,” which takes a range of factors into account, including income (measured by GDP per capita), healthy life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life choices, social support, corruption and generosity.
In recent years there has also been an increase in the study of “happiness economics.” (You can check the Wikipedia article on that here.) And three years ago an Australian film was produced with the title “The Economics of Happiness.” On Wednesday, June and I watched that thought-provoking film online (for $5).
Canadian Mark Anielski is a person who has been heavily involved in the study of happiness economics. He is the author of The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth (2007).
Next Thursday evening, Jan. 28, Anielski (b. 1960) will be giving this year’s “Binns lecture” at William Jewell College. The title of his talk is “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Genuine Happiness.”
Anielski will also be the keynote speaker at the WJC-sponsored Sustainability Summit, which will be held at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center on Feb. 8. The title of that talk is “Genuine Wealth in Kansas City.” It is free and open to the public.
Anielski defines happiness as “spiritual well-being.” In that connection, perhaps the pursuit of happiness (as well as life and liberty), especially if done in Jesus-shaped spirituality, means seeking happiness for others as well as for oneself.
It is interesting how the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are almost always interpreted in a personal or individualistic sense. However, if we have, or want to have, spiritual well-being, perhaps seeking happiness for all will be one’s primary pursuit.
“There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” is the title of an excellent article in this month’s issue of The Atlantic. Emily Esfahani Smith, the author, suggests that the pursuit of meaning is superior to the pursuit of happiness.
Or, it might be argued, it is the pursuit of meaning by seeking the happiness of others that produces true happiness and genuine wealth.