The Pursuit of Happiness

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This week Newsweek features an article called “Does Having Kids Make You Happy?”

The author gives a list of experts, surveys, and statistics which prove that having kids does not necessarily make you happy:

The most recent comprehensive study on the emotional state of those with kids shows us that the term “bundle of joy” may not be the most accurate way to describe our offspring. “Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” (MORE)

I have many critiques about this article, but let’s concentrate on the happiness aspect of these studies. This article is not very unique in its focus of “Does (fill in the blank) make you happy?” Just Google the word happiness and you will find that the world has almost gone happiness crazy, with happiness conferences, happiness projects, and almost a hundred books on happiness which have come out this year alone.

Interestingly, this article was printed the week of July 4th, when we Americans published The Declaration of Independence stating:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That’s right. We were given the right to pursue happiness and perhaps that is where this article stems from, the very quest for happiness, which in the context of this article and the Declaration of Independence seems to be a pretty selfish one.

But what does this article, Google search results, and the Declaration of Independence reveal about the Jewish view of happiness and the issues that we face today?

I was reading Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchiks book “Lonely Man of Faith” when I came across this quote:

Somehow, man of majesty considers the dialectical awareness too great a burden, interfering with his pursuit of happiness and success, and is, therefore, ready to cast it off.

Rabbi Soloveitchik was writing about the difficulty of religious man in a secular society and how many have effectively let go of the ‘struggle’ for the easy solution.

But his writing is clearly applicable to the question of “Does having kids make you happy?” and of the culture of happiness that we live in.

It is not usually the ‘easy things’ that make us genuinely happy and unfortunately that is what the article in Newsweek promotes. Furthermore, almost nothing “makes” you happy, because we create happiness, we nourish it and we plant the seeds so that it grows. We cannot pursue happiness and it is not something you can catch or chase. It is the “dialectical awareness” which Rabbi Soloveitchik refers to and it is something we must work on, not acquire or buy.

Posted on July 3, 2008

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