By Sigrid Weidenweber
I was twenty-five-years old when I came to the United States of America. In the process of getting the provisional green card—a step in the five-year waiting period before applying for citizenship—I began learning the rules and laws of my new country, among them the Declaration of Independence. I assume that you remember the famous text well, however, to refresh our collective memories, here are the most remarkable words once more.
We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.
These most enlightened lines, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, imprinted my mind with an indelible mark, for it ended with a statement never heard before or after in the proclamations of any other government.
The Pursuit of Happiness!
I had never before heard such a statement from a government! Living under Communism, I had been admonished to love my country, East Germany, the SED, the Communist party, to work diligently for its causes and distinguish myself in this worthy pursuit—but to find personal happiness or even pursue such a personal thing, that was the farthest thought from anyone’s mind, nay, it was absolutely absurd, ridiculous even, that a small peon in the socialist fields should have, or find, personal happiness. For that, you had to belong to the Communist oligarchy.
Wow! Even the French in the great slogan of their revolution: Fraternite`, Egalite`, Liberte`, made no mention of Happiness. And yet, what a wonderful concept it is that the citizens of our country are to be happy.
However, the idea of an inner state of happiness, contentment and quiet bliss, is not new. It is a state of mind described by Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, in the 4th century BC. In his treaties, he discussed that lives well lived engender a state of mind that benefits family, society and government. He advised humanity to seek out the quiet pleasures that make one happy and abstain from the pursuit of power and material goods. He arrived at such conclusions, as he watched the people of the Macedonian court, to which he was an advisor cum philosopher. Watching Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, he observed a ruthless potentate involved in malevolent machinations against friend, foe and family, resulting in terrible costs to all members of the court. Examining this rich and powerful elite, he noted their personal misery, anger, hatred and depression.
Observing their traumatic circumstances, Aristotle considered the aspects of true happiness, and found that the hunt for material possessions and sensory gratification does not lead to happiness. To become a truly happy person, he thought that the individual must believe in the power of changing one’s self. This is also a concept embraced by many modern psychologists, who understand that to improve our condition in life only one way is open—we must improve ourselves, for we cannot improve others if they resist our help. His was a motto, embraced by other philosophers of his and our time:
Know they self!
Knowing one’s self makes us secure, independent of other’s judgements, makes us happy and powerful. Our happy attitude and the kind tolerance of other’s foibles attracts people willing to listen to us and, perhaps, change.
However, more than a personal improvement of one’s mind and spirit, Aristotle postulated that a happy, enlightened citizenship benefits their country through cooperation, civilized discourse, and a willingness to see other’s viewpoints.
In our time, we have Dennis Praeger a religious ethicist, who views unhappy people as the main cause of constant uproar in the population over any perceived inequality, miniscule slights and a hundred nuisance- causes in their attempt to gain attention and prominence.
Unhappy people brood over thousands of small matters that give them lease to stir up disagreements.
Having discussed America’s happiness-design, it behooves me to talk about the only other country that recently showed a desire to have happy citizens. You have heard about Bhutan’s endeavor to have a country steeped in Gross National Happiness. Their young King renounced his crown, declaring that with a new kind of democracy, Bhutan was to achieve overall Gross National Happiness. The grand design was introduced in 1998 when Bhutan’s Prime Minister introduced the happiness paradigm as an alternative to the free market corporate world. So, twenty years later we should look at the comparison of how happy the country really is. In surveys taken in Europe and Asia, Norway’s citizens declared themselves most happy. The United States came in 14th in the happiness measure and Bhutan ranked 97th.
I close with the happy certainty that anyone who wishes to be happy can surely find happiness in America. We should love her and protect her, for there is no other like her.
Sigrid Weidenweber grew up in communist East Berlin, escaping it using a French passport. Ms. Weidenweber holds a degree in medical technology as well as psychology and has course work in Anthropology. She is co-founder of Aid for Afghans. Weidenweber has traveled the world and lived with Pakistani Muslims, learning about the culture and religion. She is a published author and lecturer. You can find her books on Amazon.com