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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

America Is Pursuing Happiness in All the Wrong Places

Arthur Brooks
The Atlantic
Originally posted 16 NOV 22

Here are two excerpt:

As a social scientist, I believe that happiness should be understood as a combination of three phenomena: enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning. Enjoyment is pleasure consciously and purposefully experienced, so it can create a positive memory. Satisfaction is the joy of an achievement, the reward for a job well done.

And then, there’s meaning. You can make do without enjoyment for a while, and even without a lot of satisfaction. But without meaning, you will be utterly lost. That is the psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s argument in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning. Without a sense of meaning—a sense of the why of our existence–our lives cannot be endured.

Here is a quick diagnostic tool I sometimes use to find out if someone has a good sense of their life’s meaning. I ask them two questions:
  1. Why do you exist?
  2. For what would you be willing to die?
There is no greater joy than seeing someone you love find their answers. I remember this in the case of my son Carlos. He struggled in high school, like so many adolescents, to find a sense of his life’s meaning.  After high school, he joined the military. Today, at 22, he is Corporal Carlos Brooks, Scout Sniper, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, Weapons Company.


But my goal is not just to tell you our troubles. It is to suggest solutions. Let me propose three that we all can undertake.

First, share your secrets of meaning. When I explained the importance of faith, family, friendship, and work, perhaps you said to yourself, I practice those things! That’s great. But it’s not enough to practice these things in our own lives—we need to celebrate them openly and recommend them to others. We all need to preach what we practice. To keep quiet about your sources of meaning because you are worried about looking judgmental is an act of selfishness.

Second, go out of your way to reject identity politics, and tell our shared story as Americans instead. If we want to find our way back as a nation, we must repudiate the poison of grievance and victimization and work instead to reestablish a healthy sense of meaning by constructing a narrative for our country that includes all of us.

Please don’t dismiss this as impossibly idealistic. On the contrary, some of our most successful presidents, from Washington to Lincoln to Franklin D. Roosevelt, did exactly this in times of crisis and trouble—they told a shared story to unite Americans against a common threat rather than balkanizing our people against one another.