Happiness is a philosophical decision and a key to success

Smiley-FaceI believe strongly that we have an affirmative obligation to be as happy as we possibly can under ordinary circumstances. That last clause, of course, means that ISIS-held Yazidi sex slaves don’t have to be happy — their circumstances are hardly ordinary.  However, ordinary, average middle class women and college students, to name just two types of people in America, need to make every effort to define their lives as happy ones. And no, I’m not being fatuous. Moreover, this is not something I just say; it’s something I live every day.

I was raised in a home that wasn’t particularly distinguished by happiness. Certainly my parents’ own lives weren’t templates for joy.

My father never knew his own father who went to America in 1919 and whose mother then refused to follow. By age five, Dad was in an orphanage in Weimar Berlin, something that was actually better than the slum in which he’d previously lived. By age 16, at the invitation of a teacher who had one extra visa, he left his mother and sister to make aliyah to Palestine. At 19, Dad enlisted in the Royal Air Force, and spent the next 5 years doing battle as an infantryman all over the Mediterranean theater. (And no, I don’t know why an RAF man would be fighting in infantry.) At 28, he got married; at 29, he was involved in another war, this time for Israel’s independence. At 35, he came to a new country, where he did raise a family, but never succeeded in making a meaningful living. He was a good man, loyal and steadfast; he was also deeply depressed and very angry most of the time.

My mother’s life wasn’t a picnic either, at least not after she turned 10. Up until 10, Mom enjoyed tremendous European affluence . . . and then her parents’ marriage fell apart.  With the marriage gone, so was that economic security. When she was 12, Mom moved with her father to Tel Aviv because, although non-religious, he was an ardent Zionist. He was also an ardent womanizer, which made for an unhappy home life. When she was 19, Mom ended up in a Japanese concentration camp, where she lived for the next three-and-a-half years. Liberated at 22, she was repatriated to Palestine where (a) she married my Dad and (b) ended up fighting in a second war. Then, at age 31, she too immigrated to a new country and tried to make a life.

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Make happiness a conscious choice

Arthur John Elsley 2A long day with my mother, combined legal with work, meant that I haven’t had a chance to read today’s news or think about its import.  For me, time with my mother needs to be calculated in dog years.  She is so relentlessly miserable — about everything — that every hour with her feels like seven, or maybe eight, hours of unpleasant work.  I often need to rest for a couple of hours — really rest, as nap or unwind by talking to a cheerful friend — before I got my energy back.  I’m not depressed; just drained.

So rather than write about politics here, I want to write about something else:  Happiness is a conscious decision and a decision, moreover, that all of us fortunate enough to enjoy the bounty and security of the First World should affirmatively make.

The reality is that, no matter how wonderful things are, none of us are happy 100% of the time.  Even in the midst of a joyful activity, you might be hungry or you might have an unpleasant thought (an exam, a bill, a blister) intrude on your mind.  It’s easy enough to push those thoughts aside when your dominant, manifest emotion is happiness, but it gets less easy when you’re not having the time of your life, but are simply living your life.

Lately, as you know, I’ve been struggling a bit with happiness because the news of the world is so grim.  Indeed, sometimes when I read about those poor Yazidi women, or the Christians slaughtered across Africa or the Middle East, or the Jews living under a perpetual rain of rocket fire from Gaza, I not only feel sadness and despair, I also feel guilty being happy.

That guilt, I think, is wrong.  Think about this:  Survey after shows that Israelis are among the happiest people in the world.  They understand that maintaining joy in the face of Evil’s efforts to extinguish life and joy is one of their most important weapons in the existential war they daily fight.  Of course, this happiness cannot be taken to foolish extremes.  If your home is hit by a rocket, or you’re a Yazidi sex slave, or you’re a civilian in what’s left of Syria, or you’re being marched to a crucifixion, happiness would be abnormal, unless you’re either a saint or a madman.  For some people, happiness truly is impossible.

Outside of those horrors, though, and within the parameters of an ordinary life (whether it’s ordinary by California standards or New York standards or Calcutta standards or Tel Aviv standards), we owe it to ourselves, to our society, and to our Creator to explore our unique capacity for joy and it’s more subdued companion, happiness.  The sin, then, isn’t being happy in the face of the sorrows of the world; it’s being selfishly happy, so that one fails to work to work to save the ISIS sex slaves, or the African Christians, or the Israelis in the line of fire.  Unselfish happiness seems to me to be the state that God (and I assume there is a God) viewed as the closest we will get to Heaven on earth.

After I’ve been with my miserable Mom I’m always terribly sad, not for me, but for her.  She’s desperately afraid of dying, but hates every moment of living.  She is in a Hell of her own making, unable to see the blessings around her.

I’m certainly given to whining and despair . . . but to give myself credit, I do fight it (sometimes with varying degrees of success).  I count my blessings every day, and if it’s a bad day, I count those blessings throughout the day.  My blessings are many:

Democrat efforts notwithstanding, I live in what is still the greatest country in the world; despite Democrat depredations in California, I live in an exquisitely beautiful county, surrounded by delightful, if politically misguided, people; my neighborhood is almost cartoonishly congenial; my home is attractive and comfortable; my kids have solid values and are sweet, loving, kind people; my dogs and I love each other as only humans and dogs can do; my mother is still alive; my sister is my best friend; and my life, even though it has things in it I wish would change; is on balance a blessing all around — and I make sure I know it.

I so wish that I could get my Mom to count her blessings but she is resolute in her determination to see only the darkness in her life.

Yes, I’m sounding ridiculously preachy and Pollyannaish, but this is important to me, after seeing the misery Mom inflicts on herself:  We need to remind ourselves that, outside of the extremes of misery, we all have the capacity to recognize the good things in our life and take pleasure from them as much as possible.  And we can do this while retaining our awareness and empathy, so that our happiness can be capped by the sense that what we do matters and that our presence on this earth makes a difference to the most vulnerable and damaged among us.

Wednesday afternoon quick hits (and Open Thread)

Victorian posy of pansiesIt’s raining!!!  In California, that’s cause for celebration.  Rain in Marin doesn’t mean it’s raining elsewhere, but it certainly matters to use Marin-ites — we have our own reservoir system, so we’re wholly dependent on local rainfall.  Ironically, the rain is slowing down our major yard renovation, and we have to get that renovation down before April 1, when rationing kicks in (and rationing will happen unless we get enormous amounts of rain).  Sigh.  To ever silver lining, there seems to be a cloud.


Since I’m on the subject of weather, here’s a two-fer about the grand hoax that is climate change. The first, from American Thinker, provides compelling evidence that every single carbon centered computer model about the climate has proven to be wrong. Not just sort of wrong, mind you, but absolutely, completely, super-duper wrong. Climate theorists are now blaming volcanoes for the warming failure, but they’ll blame anything, won’t they? If you have a non-falsifiable doctrine, you can always blame external forces for your doctrine’s inevitable failure.


I’ve also got three great articles about Israel. The first looks as all the wonderful things going on in Israel despite the world’s efforts to squash that tiny, brilliant nation. The second looks at the grotesque hypocrisy that sees gay rights advocates champion Palestinians at the expense of Israel. The third looks as the fact that Israel stands poised to save Syrians, the rest of the Middle East, and perhaps the whole world, from the unfathomable danger of a nuclear Syria.


Traditionally in America, a state attorney general is sworn to uphold the laws of the state. After all, if the AG doesn’t do that, what’s his purpose? He’s there to represent and ensure the stability, reliability, and credibility of the law.  If he doesn’t carry out that task, he just becomes another functionary in a banana republic. And that banana republic status is precisely what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dreams of, for he has instructed state AG’s to ignore any law that supports traditional marriage.


I’ve written here frequently about the lunacy that is the modern American college or university. This is a subject that exercises me a great deal because I have two children heading towards college in the next few years. As many Americans do, I’m deeply offended by the cost of college, especially the cost of the once prestigious liberal arts colleges back East. It’s insane to spend or borrow $250,000 so that your child can move into your basement and become a barista. In a changing world, colleges have actually changed in the wrong direction.  They’ve turned away entirely from educating young people to become useful and productive citizens.

What colleges have done, instead, is train youngsters to become lunatics, which is my second reason for being upset about modern American higher education. Last week, Bruce Bawer warned about a lunatic Leftist at Harvard. This week, Chicks on the Right warns about a whole cadre of potentially violent lunatic Leftists as Dartmouth. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this collection of young people expensively unmoored from reality comes from deep within the fever swamps of the gay rights movement.

I’ll say here what I always say: I believe that the government should stay out of people’s bedrooms. I believe that gay people should be free from discrimination, harassment, violence, etc. I believe that the heart loves where it will. But let’s get real here: These loony-toonz aren’t about gay rights.  They are about using the gay agenda as a wedge issue to destroy America as a free-market, individual-centered society, and to replace it with a hard-core centralized government and a socialized economy. I wonder if these “idealists” have any inkling that, when/if they’ve finally achieved their agenda they’ll meet the same fate that leading-edge revolutionaries always experience, whether in 18th Century France, or Russia, or China:  The new statist government identifies them as troublemakers and kills them first.


My sister lives in Oregon, a state that has as its primary goal the creation of happiness. We’ve talked before about the fact that a state can impose “happiness” only if it first has the right to define “happiness.”  The reality, is that there’s only a slender likelihood that the state bureaucrat’s idea of what constitutes “happiness” is the same as your idea.  Moreover, if not everyone is happy — and no one can ever be — the situation is ripe for constant revolution. Still, Oregon tries. The libertarians on the Eastern side are constantly besieged by the statists on the Western, coastal side, who have turned Oregon into one of the most heavily regulated, and least economically successful, states in America. (For more on happiness, at a deep, philosophical level, rather than at a pop-culture, “everything is free” level, check out Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual.)


And finally, knowledge that I gleaned in my youth catches up with the present. I’ve written before about my years at Berkeley, when I socialized with ultra-Leftist professors who lived in lavish houses in the Berkeley hillside, all of which seemed to be tended by Hispanic maids and Japanese gardeners. These effete, armchair revolutionaries enjoyed their Marxism because they lived on the straining back of the servant class.

That was a long time ago, but one modern-day Leftist has finally admitted that, yes, needing servants is precisely why the Leftist idle rich are so gung-ho about illegal immigrants:

As a friend of mine said after watching that, “If a conservative of any stripe were to insinuate undocumented workers were all gardeners, landscapers, and hotel workers the race card would have been played before he could even finish the sentence.”

Happiness is a moral obligation, says Dennis Prager

Smiley-FaceI couldn’t agree more with the principle that happiness is a moral obligation (an argument Dennis Prager makes at length in the excellent Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual). I often tell the children, when the describe mean kids at their school that those children are more to be pitied than censured. Happy people, I point out, aren’t mean. Someone mean must be very unhappy. Give them a wide berth, but don’t add to their misery.

As for me, I’m trying to be happy, despite having misread a contract I signed, and having inadvertently signed on to a more expensive project than I intended. I’m reminding myself that, on the information available, this service provider is still the best in the market (a market sadly marked by a lot of shoddy work), but I’m feeling dumb. It was, after all, a stupid mistake. We’ll still get what we want, but not on the terms I thought. Sigh.

Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.

The politics of ingratitude

I am not, by nature, a very happy person, although I suspect that few who know me personally would guess that fact.  The persona I want to present to the world is that of a cheerful, friendly person.  My method acting to achieve this appearance is to count my blessings routinely.  On less than good days, I might count my blessings several times.

I am blessed to live in America, still the greatest country in the world; I am blessed with lovely children who think as well of me as I do of them; I am blessed to live in a magical neighborhood, in a delightful community, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world; I am blessed that my mother, who routinely drives me nuts, is still alive, and that she still loves me and I still love her; I am blessed that my sister is one of my closest friends;  I am blessed with many friends and good acquaintances; I am blessed that, despite never having fully recovered from pregnancy brain, I have a good mind that I am able to use every day; I am blessed with good physical health; and I am blessed with the world’s most perfect dog.  Despite the things that I can and do gripe about the routine itches and scratches in my life, I am a singularly fortunate person and I know it.

I started counting my blessings more than a decade ago, because I needed to.  It turns out, though, that I was on to something.  A recent study came out confirming what I intuitively knew:  people who have a sense of gratitude are significantly happier than other people.

Thinking about gratitude, which is the underpinning of my day-to-day functioning, got me thinking about gratitude’s opposite — a sense of entitlement.  Well, what really got me thinking about that was the children’s bickering about emptying the dishwasher.  Emptying the dishwasher is not an onerous task.  I can get it done in two or three minutes and, as I always tell my kids, “The secret to a clean kitchen is an empty dishwasher.”  Easy though it may be, I don’t always want to empty the dishwasher.  Sometimes, because I’ve got my hands full or am just feeling lazy, I ask the kids (or just one kid) to empty it.

Few things spark more ferocious battles than this simple request.  Each child is certain that he or she has been called upon to empty it more often that his or her lazy, sneaky, good-for-nothing sibling.  Each will take a 20 minute “principled” stand against being forced into this 2-minute long form of “slave labor” — which, as far as each child is concerned, the other child never has to do.  Facts are irrelevant.  “It’s not fair.  He/She never has to empty the dishwasher.  I already did it last Saturday.”

I startled both of them the other day while they were winding up for their usual “Why do I have to do it?” fight.  They erred, I said, in focusing on each other, an attitude that turned a swift, simple task into a symbol of inequality.  Instead, I said, they should say to themselves, “My mother does so much for me.  Every day she feeds me, drives me, works on homework with me, supports me, and loves me.  I am so grateful that I can relieve her of this small burden.  I wish I could do more for her.”

Being teens, they turned to me simultaneously and said something along the lines of “Ego much, Mom?”  To which my response was, this is not about what I think about what I do.  This is about you adding gratitude to your vocabulary so that you feel grateful to contribute to the household, rather than perpetually angry about the inequities you always perceive.

I have personal reasons for knowing this attitude adjustment works.  Looking back on my childhood, I was honored to help out parents who had gone through one Depression, two wars (WWII and the Israeli War of Independence), one frightening immigration to a new country, and a lifetime of hard work.  Was I always Little Miss Cheerful?  No.  But most of the time I could make myself feel good about chores by (a) remembering what my parents did for me; and (b) aiming to show up my sister by doing a better job.  (My sister, bless her heart, still loves me.)

Our burdens in life are lighter when we are grateful for things.  A sense of self-entitlement is a bottomless pit of unfilled desire, leaving one unhappy.  It is also, sadly, the dynamic five decades of Progressive governance have foisted on an increasingly unsatisfied American public.

When I grew up, Americans understood that they had some fundamental rights, all of which fell under the umbrella of freedom from government coercion.  The predicate rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The specific enumerated rights keep government away from our religion, our speech, our guns, and our press.  They also make sure that government cannot impose itself on us, whether in legal courts or  by quartering soldiers within our house.  Law lecturer Obama was actually right when he said the constitution is a charter of negative liberties.  It gives us nothing concrete, except for the gift of leaving us alone.

Obama, of course, saw this as a problem.  Wise people, however, understand that this negative government — which is supposed to stay out of people’s way — is the rich soil in which a lifetime of mental and physical happiness can take root and grow.  (And to learn more about creating your own happiness, please consider reading Dennis Prager’s Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual.)

Under progressive rule, however, the inalienable right not to be a slave to ones government has been perverted into an entitlement right:  Everyone in America, citizen and non-citizen alike, must have a house, a cell phone, a comprehensive insurance policy, top-notch medical care, a job that pays a legally established wage, etc — and each of these is guaranteed, not by ambition and hard work, but by the government.

This promise to provide handouts means that the government has set the stage for dissatisfaction.  Rather than thinking, “How lucky I am to live in a free country, one in which I can make my and my children’s future,” Americans are beginning to think (constantly) “It’s not fair that I didn’t get this or that, or that, once I got it, it wasn’t as good as I expected or as someone else has.”

Obamacare is a disaster for the economy, but it’s only speeding the entitlement breakdown, not creating it. The real problem with Obamacare is that it is the loudest voice ever to tell people that they have no need to be grateful for this country and its freedoms.  Instead, they should cultivate the festering sense of inequity and deprivation that is an inevitable byproduct of entitlement.  Government is no longer the people’s servant, it is their arbitrary and capricious master.

All the good stuff that’s fit to publish on the internet *UPDATED*

For the last two days, I haven’t been blogging much, but I’ve been collecting stuff to read and share with you.  In no particular order, my collection:

Are you an old fart?  I certainly am, and proud of it.

There are several expressions that cover the need to make a decision in the face of uncertainty (e.g.,  “Fish or cut bait.”  “S*** or get off the pot.”)  Bruce Kesler explains that, in the face of Obama’s panicked inertia, Israel had better fish or . . . do other stuff.

Ben Shapiro has, bar none, the best post I’ve seen explaining what Critical Race Theory is and why it should matter to those who, this year, will be given the opportunity to examine candidate Obama once again.

Even in these unhappy times (and the world is struggling), Dennis Prager reminds us that happiness is a possibility and, morally, an imperative.

I am not a birther.  Really.  But this one surprised me.  Is Adams for real, or is he a conspiracy theorist who conveniently presented himself when the opportunity arose?

Finally.  A clear, logical, comprehensive explanation for our current very high gas prices, prices that are higher in real dollars than they were during the Carter years.  I’m not sure Obama has enough speechifying in him to explain this away.

The disturbing racial/eugenicist implications of unlimited abortion.

Spengler (i.e., David Goldman) has been writing for some time about the problems inherent in Muslim population decline.  And no, I didn’t make a typo.  Despite the proud boasts and misleading data about the way the Palestinian population explosion will inevitably overrun Israel, the fact is that the Muslim world is in decline.  The MSM has finally noticed, but they’re getting the wrong message from the facts.

Here, we talk about impeachment.  In Iran, they do something about it.

Please add anything you think is interesting.

UPDATE:  I wasn’t planning on updating this post, but Victor Davis Hanson hit one out of the park, right into must-read territory.

Feelings, nothing more than feelings — the Prop. 8 trial in San Francisco

One of the things I’ve been watching is the trial attacking Prop. 8 in California.  As you know, in November 2008, California voters, by a solid majority, passed Prop. 8, which states affirmatively that, in California, marriage is between a man and a woman.  Two gay couples sued in federal court, alleging discriminatory intent.  To that end, the plaintiffs have been trying to prove, through discovery and through testimony, that the people who put the initiative on the ballot had discrimination in their hearts.  I’ve found these personal attacks bewildering, since it seems to me that what you really have to show is that the 54% (or so) of California voters who passed the initiative all had discrimination in their hearts.

Charles Winecoff has also been following the trial, and he’s very dismayed by the “feelings, nothing more than feelings” on display in the court room:

The curtain went up on Monday, January 11th.  Olson opened the show by declaring that “domestic partnership has nothing to do with love” – essentially admitting that the two couples are seeking legal recognition of their feelings. Then the complainants took to the stand to deliver a string of what even the Los Angeles Times called “emotional accounts,” proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that non-celebrities no longer need Oprah (or Jerry Springer) to validate their existence.

First, Jeffrey Zarrillo testified that ”the word marriage” would give him the ability “to partake in family gatherings, friends and work functions as a married individual standing beside my parents and my brother and his wife.  The pride that one feels when that happens.”  Does he mean that, like Michelle Obama and her country, he never before felt pride being with his partner?  In their nine years as a couple, did they never attend any of those events together?

If “the word” means so much, why not just call yourself married?

Similarly, when Olson asked Berkeley lesbian Kristen Perry why she was a plaintiff in the case, she replied, ”Because I want to marry Sandy [her partner, also of nine years]… I want the discrimination to end and a more joyful part of our life to begin…  The state isn’t letting me feel happy.  The state isn’t allowing me to feel my whole potential.”  Yet “the state” never prevented Perry and Stier from making a home together, or from raising four boys in that home.

Rule number one: make yourself happy.

What Winecoff might not know is that, in California, feelings matter — at a constitutional level.  Few people who aren’t lawyers (and even few lawyers) know that the California Constitution pretty much guarantees Californians happiness:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

Some people are rolling their eyes at this moment and saying, “Well, I have the same right under the federal Constitution.” Au contraire, my friends.  Our United States Constitution, wisely, says nothing whatsoever about happiness as a legal right.  Instead, the only mention of happiness in a seminal American document is the statement, in the non-binding Declaration of Independence, that all people have the right to pursue happiness:

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, in a nutshell, sums up the purpose and effect of individual freedom.  But it’s no guarantee that any given individual will be happy.

If you’ll cast your eye back up to the California Constitution, you’ll see something very different.  Strip away the extra verbiage, unrelated to happiness, and you get this promise to its citizens from the California government:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are . . . pursuing and obtaining . . . happiness . . . .

Live in the land of perpetual sunshine, and you are guaranteed the right, under the law, to obtain happiness.  If the state does something that makes you unhappy, well, the state had better remedy that problem.

Sadly, the California Constitution does not explain what it’s supposed to do when a given law brings happiness to some (for example, those who believe marriage is a male/female thing) and unhappiness to others (those who believe the word “marriage” is the only thing that can make their relationship a real one). I am reminded of a quotation, the source of which I can’t trace, to the effect that “The real tragedy is not the conflict of good with evil but of of good with good.”  As Dorothy L. Sayers says, in Gaudy Night, “that means a problem with no solution.”

The pursuit of happiness

Here it is, my first day back from a long-ish vacation, and I’m not finding any blogging inspiration in today’s news. Instead, it’s exactly the same stuff that was in the news when I left: unrest in Pakistan; Hillary’s free-fall; alleged campaign shenanigans from the Hillary camp aimed at the Obama camp; Obama’s problem with Israel and Jewish voters; student unrest in Iran, which is intriguing but, currently, ineffectual; and the usual bad CBS polls trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by pushing Democratic candidates. Ho-hum. Boring. Rather than commenting on things as to which I’ve commented a hundred times before, therefore, I’ve decided to dust off some notes I made weeks ago about about happiness and government. Nothing I’ll say is new, but I still thinks it’s worth thinking about.

You all know, of course, these stirring words from the Declaration of Independence:

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. (Emphasis mine.)

Did you know, though, that California has a Constitution that grants to its citizens a distinctly different right when it comes to being happy? Here:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy. (Emphasis mine.)

Although the words look similar (with “pursuit” and “happiness” showing up in both places in the same sentence), the meanings are spectacularly different. As I understand it, the Founders, with that simple phrase “the pursuit of Happiness,” were saying that Government cannot step in and regulate too closely the decisions that people make with their lives. Government cannot insist that you engage in a certain trade, or marry a specific person, or socialize only with a pre-determined group. Instead, government must stand back so that you can make those decisions about your life that you believe will lead to your greatest happiness. It is up to you (and fate, I guess) whether you do, in fact, achieve success in that pursuit, or whether happiness remains a chimera, forever out of your grasp.

In California, however, the government guarantees that you will not only pursue that happiness but that you will obtain it. The question then becomes, how does a state determine whether its citizens have obtained happiness? As Dennis Prager likes to say in his happiness hour, happiness can vary from minute to minute. When I’m blogging, I’m happy; when I’m folding laundry or summarizing really, really boring depositions, I’m probably not very happy. When I’m riding Soarin’, I’m happy; when I’m plunging backwards into the darkness on Expedition Everest, I’m probably not happy, just motion sick. And then there are those situations when I’m feeling both emotions, such as boredom about standing in line, coupled with happy expectation about the pleasure of an upcoming experience.

Clearly, unless the government has some probe stuck in my brain 24 hours a day, it’s going to be impossible to tell whether I’m obtaining that guaranteed happiness (and the probe would have a challenge when dealing with conflicting emotions). Additionally, since my happiness level probably averages out over a day, a week or month or even a year (with a preponderance of individual “happy” experiences determining whether I’m happy over an extended period of time), such a probe, even if it existed, would be useless.

Given the impossibility of monitoring every individual’s actual happiness quotient, the only thing left for the government to do is to define happiness and then force it on its citizens. A lot of governments, usually socialist or theocratic governments, have tried to do that. They’ve defined happiness in economic terms and in terms of an individual’s relationship to the state. In communist countries, you will be happy because the state has provided you with housing (no matter how abysmal); with food (no matter how unappetizing or limited); and employment (no matter how dangerous, demoralizing or dreary). In religious countries, the government forces you to live according to its religious dictates, and then declares that you are happy because it has enabled you to please God.  End of story.  The state has defined happiness and then provided it. That your wishes, inclinations and abilities might leave you feeling personally unhappy is irrelevant, because once a state guarantees happiness, it can no longer afford to let the individual provide the definition of what that happiness looks like.

As you probably expected, all of this talk is going to wrap around to encompass this year’s elections and the differing visions of the Left and the Right. Although compassionate conservatism shows bad signs of tipping over into guaranteeing happiness, conservative principles still hew closer to guaranteeing opportunities to pursue happiness. Thus, it holds a greater promise that government will provide security (both at home and abroad) and economic flexibility so as to enable people to do what they want to do.  In a weird inversion of the hippies’ promise, it is the conservatives that create the environment in which citizens can “follow their bliss.” Each citizen can define happiness as he wants, whether it’s where the person lives, what he does, how he spends his recreational time, who he chooses as friends, etc.

This is the same principle that appears in the conservative belief that people should have equality of opportunity, although the government (wisely) refuses to guarantee equality of outcome, or even a successful outcome. There was certainly no guarantee in the 1970s, when Steve Jobs was futzing about in a garage, or Bill Gates was dropping out of college, that either would be anything more than a long-haired loser. We benefited from the fact that the State was unable to force them to stay in school or use their skills toward particular forms of employment. Instead, they followed their dreams and, as luck and the capitalist system would have it, they and we reaped a profit from their efforts.

The Left, however, keeps scootching closer and closer to a situation in which government doesn’t create a petri dish within which we can cultivate our own happiness, but actually tries to define happiness. Two examples spring to mind, but I suspect that you can supply more. The first example is the promise of universal health care. The Democrats want to determine what constitutes quality health care for all Americans (what will guarantee us “medical happiness”) and then to bypass the market to impose that vision on all of us. There are a lot of problems with the government approach.

To begin with, as Britain and and Canada keep demonstrating over and over and over again with regard to health care, the government does not end up providing something that guarantees health happiness. Instead, it provides a bare minimum service that leaves a few people happy, and most people resigned to the scraps doled out to them. The rich, of course, opt out entirely.

Moreover, there are indications that not all people want health care. Studies show that, while there are people who are genuinely at economic health care risk (mostly the elderly), there are also people, well-to-do people, who make a conscious decision to opt out of obtaining health care that they could otherwise afford. They’ve clearly decided that the odds are that their health is good and that they can better pursue their happiness by putting their money with an entity other than an insurance company. A 25 year old guy may decide that he’d rather than have a BMW, which he knows will increase his chances with the ladies, than a Blue Cross policy he probably won’t use. He also knows that he will get health care if he needs it, since ERs are barred from turning people away, and he’s willing to take the risk of subsequent bills. This guy might be very unhappy if Hillary coerced him into turning over even more of his money to the government, leaving him healthy (as he probably would be anyway), but driving a used Hyundai — a car that is most decidedly not a chick-mobile.

The second example of the Left defining happiness occurs with Obama’s relentless calls for unity. First off, this assumes that people want unity. As for me, I feel that unity can turn into brainlessness, with people effortlessly coasting along in what may be a dangerous status quo. It is the vigor of the marketplace of ideas, the fact that different ideas rub up against each other and have to defend themselves, that creates energy and quality. If you don’t believe me, look at a government office that doesn’t face competition — it’s slack, a fact that’s very irritating to those people in the office who, by temperament, crave efficiency and effectiveness. People and institutions need rigor to keep themselves polished. (Rigor, of course, is not the same as horrible threats.)

Second, as the above argument indicates, the only way in which one can actually obtain this unity that Obama impliedly promises will make us all happy is for us all to think the same way. That is, unity exists only when everyone is in agreement. But, as with the happiness problem, how do we define agreement? In my family, we all liked Disney World, but I hated Expedition Everest, and my children loved it. Were we unified or not?

On the political side, Obama is careful not to define the unity he insists he is capable of providing, but I’m quite certain that, as with government guaranteed happiness, this promised unity can exist only if Obama can also define the issues about which we will be unified. And if you look at his perfect liberal voting record, the one that makes him the most liberal Senator in government today, I can promise you that his definition of unity (read: happiness) will not match your definition of unity. Indeed, it will probably match the definition of unity only in a few select communities, such as Berkeley, San Francisco, parts of Boston, Austin, and Manhattan.

Obama’s definition of unity won’t even match the ideas of all those African-Americans who now overwhelmingly support him. His idea of unity requires abortion on demand and no school vouchers — but most African-Americans, as Larry Elder reminds us in the wonderful Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card–and Lose are pro-Life and want vouchers. They’re unified behind his being black (aren’t identity politics wonderful?), but they actually don’t support some of his core policies.

Heck, as Elder points out, even Obama himself isn’t unified, playing the race card to black audiences and disavowing it to white audiences.  To make a very extreme analogy, in this he is reminiscent of the Arab spokesmen who speak peace to the West in English and, in the next breath, preach Jihad to the Muslims in Arabic.  The analogy goes even further in that, just as Western papers listen only to the English pronouncements from these death-seeking Muslims, so too do mainstream American papers listen only to Obama’s “race isn’t a problem” speeches, while assiduously ignoring his more inflammatory pronouncements and affiliations. When it comes to the press, Ostriches and monkeys, the cliched examples of avoidance, spring to mind.

The guarantee of happiness sounds like a wonderful thing.  Heck, we all want to be happy.  Before you get too excited, though, about the candidate who promises you that happiness (even if he phrases it in soporific terms of “unity”), think long and hard about what government-provided happiness really means.  It sounds great in theory, but history and current events show that, when it plays out in fact, they only happy people are the fat-cat bureaucrats who simultaneously define the happiness imposed upon us from on high and, usually, opt out of it themselves, preferring instead to pursue their own happiness.  As for me, I’d infinitely prefer living in a country where the government stands aside as much as possible, merely creating situations in which I can make those decisions I believe are most likely to provide me with the happiness I seek.