ARISTOTLE, AMERICA, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.~Plutarch (c.45-125 A.D.)

If you ask people what makes them happy, they will tell you many things. Some will say that lounging on the beach makes them happy. Others will say “watching sports on TV,” or perhaps “fishing.” However, I do not believe that these things, by themselves, make us happy. These leisure activities only contribute to happiness when one is already happy. If one is fundamentally unhappy, sitting on the beach or fishing is not going to make much of a difference. Like alcohol, some activities can distract us from our unhappiness, for a little while.

So, what makes us happy? The best definition of happiness I have ever encountered is Aristotle’s: “Happiness is striving one’s utmost under favorable conditions.” That means, working hard and having the work really pay off—being really productive. Working under conditions that produce success and the resulting deep sense of accomplishment is the basis of happiness. Then we can bask in the afterglow of our accomplishments during leisure and social activities.

What does this have to do with America? What are the conditions that are favorable to working hard? It is the right of each American to be free to pursue happiness as protected by our Constitution. It is the responsibility of every leader, parent, or employer to set up the conditions under which subordinates, children, or employees can thrive. That is, if we ask for hard work, let’s set up the conditions where hard work yields tangible rewards. One could view our Government in this way and hold it to this standard. The sole job of Government is to set up the conditions where by the effort of each citizen pays off. This includes removing impediments and obstacles to the exercise of our free will. America has achieved its greatness based upon the free choice of its people to work hard. The “land of opportunity” means that basic freedom is the condition that favors success. Our Government should be the last entity to get in the way.


~Bryce Lefever