March 30, 2016 by Mark Hammerstrom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” –The Declaration of Independence.
I ran into this quote from the Declaration of Independence the other day. I don’t know how many times I have read this amazing document, but this time “…pursuit of Happiness” just sort of jumped out at me. Pursuing Life and Liberty I get. But a right to pursue Happiness?
So, I wondered, how effective have I been at taking advantage of my own unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness? How would I even measure my level of happiness or at least the progress I am making in my pursuit?
The reams of material on pursuing, finding and maintaining happiness is staggering. Wikipedia notes that the bulk of the attempts to measure happiness are subjective, or at least based on qualitative not quantitative measures. Depending on where you live, age, race, economic status, weather, politics, religion, well just about every factor in our lives, can increase or decrease our self-reported level of happiness at just about any given moment.
Then they throw this in under “Happiness economics”:
“Micro-econometric happiness equations have the standard form: Wit = a+Bxit + Eit. In this equation W is the reported well-being of individual; i, at t; time , and x is a vector of known variables, which include socio-demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.”
I must say that did not make me any happier.
I can just see someone building a similar equation into a health app as a way to measure our ‘happiness’ quotient. Inevitably I know I would wind up in a situation where not hitting my goal of 10,000 steps per day would make my happiness quotient go down and therefore I would eat more ice cream to become happier and have to do more steps to get rid of the extra calories which I would not attain anyway so…well you see where this is going.
In our business of collections, we see the sometimes very unfortunate results of our pursuit of happiness. Consumer debt is now back to pre-recession highs. More of us are trying to ‘buy’ our way to happiness. Unfortunately, once the glow wears off of the ‘best new thing’ the bill is still there and the consequences of not paying it, well, certainly don’t increase happiness.
From Wikipedia again: “Scholars at the University of Virginia, University of British Columbia and Harvard University released a study in 2011 after examining numerous academic paper in response to an apparent contradiction: “When asked to take stock of their lives, people with more money report being a good deal more satisfied. But when asked how happy they are at the moment, people with more money are barely different than those with less.” Published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the study is entitled “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” and included the following eight general recommendations:
- Spend money on “experiences” rather than goods.
- Donate money to others, including charities, rather than spending it solely on oneself.
- Spend small amounts of money on many small, temporary pleasures rather than less often on larger ones.
- Don’t spend money on “extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance.”
- Adjust one’s mindset to “pay now, consume later,” instead of “consume now, pay later.”
- Exercise circumspection about the day-to-day consequences of a purchase beforehand.
- Rather than buying products that provide the “best deal,” make purchases based on what will facilitate well-being.
- Seek out the opinions of other people who have prior experience of a product before purchasing it.”
Good suggestions all. I am reminded, though, of how many of the suggestions for pursing happiness involve money, or lack thereof. While money certainly was a part of what Jefferson et.al. thought would be involved in the “pursuit of Happiness,” I have to believe they were also thinking of the many more opportunities for happiness in our lives that are made possible by our simple unalienable right to purse them. How is your pursuit?
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