Washington, DC (BlackNews.com) – “The pursuit of happiness is hazardous to our life and liberty,” says Dr. L. A. Lemmons, naturopathic physician and author of America Never Promised Us Happiness (Only the Right to Pursue It) and Needles, Drugs, Liars, and Thieves: What Doctors Failed to Tell Us about Staying Healthy.
Since its introduction into legal history in 1776 by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness has been hailed as one of the greatest gifts to humankind. “But everybody knows you cannot trust everything politicians tell us,” says Lemmons.
Behind the glowing façade of happiness lies a disturbing history of corporate tyranny, social control, and political corruption. For example:
1. Throughout history, dictators like Stalin and Hitler have used the concept of happiness to advance their agendas. Stalin called himself the “Gardener of Happiness,” and Hitler’s youth campaigns promoted “security, comradeship, and happiness.”
2. U.S. citizens haven’t always assumed the right to pursue happiness. The Declaration of Independence originally gave Americans the inalienable right to have property. Government officials later decided that property should not be an immutable right, and should be taxed as a way to finance a society.
3. The ubiquitous yellow smiley face commonly used to adorn text messages was created, not to spread happiness over the land, but to increase work productivity in Middle America. As part of a campaign to get disgruntled workers at State Life Mutual Assurance of Massachusetts to smile whenever they answered a phone, paid a claim, or typed a report, in 1963, graphic designer Harvey Ball was hired to come up with the visual symbol.
4. Five years after the first commercial aired in England in 1955, happiness campaigns began to flood the airwaves, one of the first being “Happiness Is a Cigar Called Hamlet.” In the United States, 1979 brought the McDonald’s Happy Meal and the slogan “Have a Coke and a Smile.” Soon the market was saturated with happiness advertisements. Walmart incorporated the smiley face icon in its “Rolling Back the Prices” campaign. Coke opens happiness. Disneyland is “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Honda offers an “Extended Happiness Guarantee.” Ben & Jerry’s offers a “Scoop of Happiness.” “Hershey’s Makes S’more Happiness.” Employers have a happy hour. Moviemakers have happy endings. Happiness is even a dream of Fisher Price. And the list goes on.
The pursuit of happiness is not a method for people to get happy. It is a cash cow for Fortune 500 companies: a marketer’s wet dream.
For 200 years and counting, Americans have been on the bliss treadmill, going nowhere fast, and are none the happier for it. Westerners have all the trappings of corporate happiness. Our houses are getting bigger, our cars more luxurious, our incomes are rising, we have the latest in modern conveniences and beauty aids, yet the numbers speak for themselves.
The polls indicate that American citizens are no happier than they were in 1946. One in 10 people is on antidepressants, about 12 million people reported that they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their lives (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2005), and chronic loneliness for adults over age 45 has increased from 20 percent to 35 percent over the last decade (AARP The Magazine, 2010).
So what makes people happy? The very same things that have made them happy since the beginning of human history: food, shelter, and family. Human beings are prehistoric creatures with longstanding genetic habits. Two centuries of being hypnotized by the cult leaders of happiness is not enough to alter this biological reality. It is the simple things that matter to the human body.
Without technology, modern sophistication, or expendable incomes, cash-poor Bangladesh and clan-centered Ghana topped the list of happiest nations in the world (World Happiness Survey, 2009), while a 2010 global Gallup poll placed Nigerians as the happiest people on the planet. Similarly, a 2013 UK study found that rural folk were happier than city dwellers: 62 percent of countryside couples stayed together five or more years, compared with 42 percent of couples in the city.
The old-world model of eat, drink, and be merry is often confused for the modern-day pursuit of happiness. But the two are not the same. Here’s why: the pursuit of degrees, perfect jobs, travel, cars, education, money, Internet, TV, shopping (all things happiness) leaves us impatient with, disconnected from, and with little time for our friends and family.
Fifty percent of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. American children are being raised by baby-sitters, day care, and public school systems, and 1.5 million elderly Americans are in nursing homes.
But family is crucial to the misery-thwarting equation.
Over and over, the research shows that people with a strong base of friends and family suffer less depression. Friends and family can offer a shoulder to cry on, physical protection from harm, and financial assistance; they can help brainstorm solutions to problems, give you a sense of purpose and belonging, or watch the kids so you can take a break. Members of our tribe, in essence, function as our loan officers, advisors, therapists, lovers, chiefs, baby-sitters, nursing homes, comedians, and Friday night entertainment. They offer the same resources for which corporations charge an arm and a leg.
It is time to wake up from the American dream. The pursuit of happiness is not working, at least not for the lay public. The very steps we take to find happiness isolate us from the element that fills human life with joy: our families. It is time to try something new – or, in this case, something old.
Can unhappiness in the United States be curtailed simply by pulling the plug on digital life and reconnecting to the land of the living? By shopping, not for more stuff to clutter the home, but for high-quality friendships? By chasing, not an American ideal, but a biological reality? Human beings thrive best in groups. It worked for indigenous cultures and other social animals for thousands of years; why wouldn’t it work for us today?
For more tips for getting off the happiness treadmill, sign up at http://www.drlemmons.com.
About Dr. L. A. Lemmons
Dr. Lemmons gave up her day job as a scientist to dissect America’s love affair with happiness. She holds a doctorate in alternative and complementary medicine and is trained as a midwife.