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.
Declaration of Independence
Thomas Jefferson adapted his famous list of rights from the works of John Locke, a philosopher of the era. He substituted “the pursuit of happiness” for Locke’s more conservative “property. His phrase survived to become part of what defines us as Americans.
The funny thing is that we all pursue happiness, but most of us don’t know what it is. Some pursue fame as their form of happiness. Others think of it as wealth, which Jefferson certainly did not intend.
For the moment, let’s go with that definition. If so, how much money does it take to be happy? The answer, if you believe the experts, is not “more.” The pollsters have studied Americans of all stations and have concluded that any amount over $75,000 a year does nothing to increase the markers of happiness for most Americans. Indeed, more money often leads to more worries and no greater satisfaction with life.
I often mention this study to my students, and I find their reactions telling. Many show signs of disbelief, and I make a mental note that they may be pursuing something other than happiness in their law careers. Some though find the study intriguing. They, I believe, are more likely to enjoy the practice of law for itself, and thus find satisfaction in life.
I can’t find the source now, but someone once studied high school athletes to determine which were the happiest. You would think that football stars, with all their popularity and praise, would be the clear winners. That, however, turned out to be wrong. The happiest athletes turned out to be soccer players, who participated for the joy of the sport and the camaraderie that the team bred.
The gold standard for defining happiness seems to be the 75 year and still running “Harvard Study of Adult Development.” You can listen to its director’s TED talk here. Over the term of the study, researchers regularly assessed the mental and physical wellbeing of thousands of Harvard graduates and a corresponding number of poor Bostonian youth. The one defining marker of happiness, and even physical health, was satisfaction with one’s relationships. The richer one was in this one area, the happier he was with his life. (The study began with young men, but has expanded to encompass women as well).
All that begs the question, “How happy are you?”
And as a postscript: Todd Lombardo has written a thoughtful piece, entitled, “You Don’t Have to be Famous to be Great.” It is well worth your reading.