My Favorite Things: The Pursuit of Happiness

Written by: Kaitlin Strohschein
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Although this seems to be true, Americans tend to be confused as to what will actually bring them happiness. Many Americans seem to have equated financial success and all that it entails with happiness. Others seem to think that the pursuit happiness involves getting “high” off whatever form of immediate gratification happens to be convenient. Neither of these two commonly held beliefs seem to be made of the same “stuff” as true happiness. The vast majority of Americans trade in the best hours, days, weeks, and years of their lives for money. They seem to do this because they subconsciously (or perhaps even consciously) think that they can trade in their dollars for things that will make them happy: vacations, bigger houses, nicer cars and similar items. Do these things actually make them happier people? Heath Ledger, Lindsay Lohan, and Brittany Spears are all examples of people who had everything society would call successful but, nevertheless, seem to be desperately unhappy. Money and things not only failed to make them happy, it seems to have made them desperately unhappy. There is another section of the population who scorn financial success, and would prefer to live for immediate gratification. For some, this could be as seemingly innocent as overindulging in food; for others, it could be intoxication of alcohol or drugs. However, no matter how it manifests itself, the pursuit of immediate gratification is what some would consider the pursuit of happiness. Equating the carnal satisfaction with happiness seems to be a rather hollow strategy. In the first place, “getting high” on immediate pleasures generally has long term consequences. For example, overindulging in unhealthy foods will probably result in unwanted fat, and looking at porn on the internet may not only be expensive but it can also be addictive. Secondly, “highs” tend to wear off quickly. Even the most loyal drunks do not typically feel the positive effects of alcohol by the “day after.” Gratification just does not feel like happiness. According to Pascal, everyone is pursuing happiness; there is nothing inherently wrong with that. However, it seems that when happiness is sought as an end, in and of itself, it will never be found. It is only when one is pursuing something deeper than one’s own pleasure that genuine happiness can be seen peripherally. True, deep happiness is an after affect of setting good priorities and living thoughtfully and selflessly. One of the rights which we are guaranteed as American citizens is the right to the, “pursuit of happiness.” However, this seems kind of silly. Isn’t the right to the “pursuit of happiness” an intrinsic right guaranteed to every human alive?