Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Happiness of the People

Charles Murray's speech to the American Enterprise Institute "The Happiness of the People" is online at their site.
Regarding the economic crisis, I am not an economist. In fact, I am so naïve about economics that I continue to think that we have a financial meltdown because the federal government, in its infinite wisdom, has for the last two administrations aggressively pushed policies that made it possible for clever people to get rich by lending money to people who were unlikely to pay it back.
Yes, years of fixing American society by increasing minority home ownership whether it was good for the individuals or not, and structuring the lending so that only those large institutions that were politically connected got exemptions from regulations worked out just great, didn't it? And those who had their backs covered by the feds founding new and better ways to build the house of cards higher.

The grim humor of Murray's introduction aside, the heart of the essay is his commentary on America moving in a European direction. He finds some of what Europe offers valuable, though he thinks demographics will sweep those parts away. But his main worry is a more subtle cost we pay for having others, especially the government, make life easier for us. Even when it works, it seems to pacify us by robbing us of deep satisfaction. Happiness research - a fascinating and often counterintuitive field - is revealing that long-lasting happiness, the happiness of a life well-lived, comes directly from the difficult and inconvenient parts of life which interfere most with short-term pleasure.
To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don't get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché "nothing worth having comes easily"). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.

There aren't many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something--good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith. Two clarifications: "Community" can embrace people who are scattered geographically. "Vocation" can include avocations or causes.

It is not necessary for any individual to make use of all four institutions, nor do I array them in a hierarchy. I merely assert that these four are all there are. The stuff of life--the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one's personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships--coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness--occurs within those four institutions.
Much to think about here.


terri said...

oohh...I like what he has to say.

I can most identify with this:

"And you have to have been responsible for the consequences."

Most people, myself included, feel much satisfaction in knowing that they were the key to something happening that wouldn't have happened without their contribution.

People like to feel useful.


It's pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness. Poverty an' wealth have both failed
Yours is a wonderful blog! Nice Post!