Marty Kaplan Responds to "Satisfaction Guaranteed"

When Jefferson worked on the Declaration of Independence, he used as a kind of rough draft the Virginia Declaration of Rights, writen by George Mason, which says  "that all men are born equally free and independant [sic], and have certain inherent natural Rights ... among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety."

One theory that a number of historians  subscribe to is that Jefferson was trying to cut unnecessary words from the Mason text.  In that reading, "happiness" isn't something different from property; it's a shorthand that includes "acquiring and possessing" it, as well as safety.  In the eighteenth century, happiness—especially when philosophers used it—meant more than pleasure; it was a moral term.  A happy life was a virtuous life.

As for your theory, as far as I understand it, it's Cavafy's idea in "Ithaca": the journey, not the arrival, is what matters.  There's a whole academic industry that's grown up around the meaning and pursuit of happiness.  People who equate the accumulation of material goods with happiness are bound to discover that they're on a "hedonic treadmill"; the more you get, and the more other people get, the more you need more.  Desire may be a lovely motivation for success, but it's also the enemy.   My favorite approach is a take on Buddhism:  The secret of happiness is to want what you have. 

Marty Kaplan, Associate Dean, USC Annenberg School for Communication; Director, The Norman Lear Center; Host of "So What Else Is News?" on Air America Radio

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