Note to self: it’s not about the pursuit of happiness


OK. We’ve killed Osama, elected a Conservative majority and gotten rid of the tolls on the Saint John bridge and Grand Manan ferry. The province is finally working on dispatching its the debt, and the local county is getting a brand new economic development strategy. So there’s nothing left to bitch about because we’re finally living in a nearly perfect world. The rest, as they say, is up to us.

So, what to do? Well, we could look to our American neighbours, who seem to have all the answers. It’s the pursuit of happiness, they’d say. Cool, we can handle that.

If that’s the goal, then how do we get there? That depends. For some, being rich is almost equivalent to happiness. Money can’t buy you love, but as someone once said, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich, and being rich is a whole lot better.” Yep. More marriages implode on money issues for example.

But now, instead of Gross Domestic Product, we’re looking at Gross Domestic Happiness—measuring our emotional wealth rather than our industrial output.

Excuse me for sounding cynical but that seems like a notion cooked up by the rich to keep the suckers at the bottom satisfied with less. After all, we don’t see the rich giving away their fortunes to go back to the land in the middle of blackfly season.

So it follows that happiness is connected to the pursuit of money, the basis of the entire capitalist system. Ergo, capitalism is the pursuit of happiness, right?

Well kind of. Capitalism is a philosophy. And it’s a pretty powerful philosophy given it has pretty much displaced other “isms” such as communism and socialism. When Ronald Reagan famously declared, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall,” he de facto invited Gorbachev to join the capitalist world. For those who are still connecting dots, it wasn’t about democracy.

When Boris Yeltsin took over the Soviet Union in the early 1990s he began dismantling the communist system, privatizing the publicly-owned corporations, and creating a market economy—which conveniently allowed many of his associates to become incredibly wealthy. So instead of becoming democracies, the former Soviet states became oligarchies.

Coincidentally, the same thing has been happening here since Reagan. Our governments have been infiltrated by lobby groups, wealthy individuals and corporate boards to the point that nothing can get done without their blessing and financial support, including the nomination and financing of business-friendly candidates. And the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top income levels in North America over the past 30 years tells the tale.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that we’re now well along the migration path from democracy to oligarchy. Wealthy individuals are now actively and publicly involved in reshaping government policy—which at first glance may seem altruistic, but on further examination only shows the elite exerting even greater influence over the rest of us with the inevitable prioritization of their personal goals over the collective aims of the general public. So we’re on the slippery slope.

Of course all of this is Osterized into the political debate between the left and the right. But the actual arguments on each side can shift quite dramatically, as on the issue of climate change. Somehow the debate has shifted from the environment to the quality of climate change science. Conveniently, the actual environmental facts can be tossed to the wind.

But conveniently for whom?

Last night I sat down and watched “Who Killed the Electric Car?” with my 12-year-old. It was interesting to watch his reaction to the games played by General Motors and the oil companies to keep the electric cars off the road. He was astounded. “How could they do that?” he kept asking—like when Shell Oil bought up the patents on the new and highly successful NiHM battery technology—to bury it. A 12-year-old could see that the corporations were working hard to kill environmental innovation, in this case the electric car, in order to maintain high profits and a business-as-usual investment model.

A few of my blogging buddies in the US are engaged in a lively ongoing debate about business and the widening rift between the right and left. They have a long list of culprits to blame. Bringing the two sides together seems increasingly impossible. Nobody seems to agree on a common direction. So what would make all sides happy?

Incredibly, the answer that came to me was “suffering.” The only way to bring everyone together in a cooperative way is to focus on the job of relieving suffering in society. Sure, it’s a radical notion. But think about the possibilities.

Think of all the types of suffering—emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, environmental—and how that suffering affects each of us. It’s not a stretch to see that if we just worked on reducing suffering we’d all be a lot more engaged—and a lot happier.

And in fact we’re collectively suffering from a mainline addiction to overconsumption—when we’re really craving more purposeful lives. Isn’t it time we removed the happiness needle and faced the disease?


  1. Hmmmm ... perhaps mandatory tv viewing time would work? Happiness, suffering and capitalism all rolled up into one single endeavo/ur.

  2. That sounds more like a mandatory IV connection to the disease... and I suspect it's been working for a large percentage of the population for 6 decades or so.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts