“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” These famous words start the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson on behalf of the rest of the founding fathers. It goes on to declare certain unalienable rights such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Under the influence of the enlightenment philosophers of his era, particularly from France and England, it was quite a progressive and prescient position to take on Jefferson’s part when he ranked the pursuit of happiness on the same footing as life and liberty. The United Nations sponsored World Happiness Report ranks the U.S. 18th among nations. Let's explore how this happened and what we can do to improve our standard of living.
Eleven years later, in 1787, the ratified Constitution of the United States is introduced by its first paragraph with the objective “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
These two documents that most deeply define the very nature and core values of the United States of America highlight a fundamental vision for future governments to follow in providing critical elements for the safety and happiness of present and future generations of Americans.
How close to that vision are we today? How faithful to these expectations have our past and present government officials been?
It is fair to say that at the time the founding fathers were trailblazers compared to the leaders of other countries, but today where does the U.S. stand in the world relative to these objectives and values?
The recent United Nations sponsored World Happiness Report gives us a basis from which to measure and compare. Their yearly report compares over 150 countries against six criteria: income, life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity.
The U.S. has never made it into the top ten which is dominated by the Nordic European countries. In 2017, it ranked number 14. In 2018, it dropped to number 18. Dropping four places in one year is considered extreme. The drop is partly explained by one of the authors of the report as follows:
“The U.S. is in the midst of a complex and worsening public health crisis involving epidemics of obesity, opioid addictions, and major depressive disorders that are all remarkable by global standards.”
Of course, a public health crisis is a direct outcome of state and federal policies. They cover a wide spectrum of matters from agricultural policies, to the regulation of dangerous chemicals and practices affecting food, water and air, to the drug and health care industries.
The level of anxiety prevalent in the U.S. is exacerbated by widespread concern over lack of job security, low minimum pay practices, the possibility of personal bankruptcy resulting from having insufficient yet costly health care insurance and more.
The 2018 Trend Report from the Global Wellness Institute commented on this drastic development in the U.S. and noted that “there cannot be wellness without a healthy level of happiness!”
Over the last 20 years, the exploding spa and wellness industry at-large has created a demand for achieving an enhanced sense of wellness for its clients. The implication is that a committed patron of a qualified spa will achieve a reasonable level of wellness improvement. But now we learn that our individual wellness also depends on outside factors directly or indirectly related to the actions of our government.
Suddenly we are faced with a more complex problem: wellness solutions are not simply dependent on a relationship between client and spa professionals. It is not simply a matter of how much time and money the client is willing to invest in his or her wellness objectives. It goes beyond as we discover that the environment in which we live–physical, financial, social, and political–is always a part of the equation.
But are these additional considerations really something new? Is it not that many of us have fallen into a state of oblivion forgetting the deep consequences our elected officials actually have on the quality of our lives?
The founding fathers made a prescient statement when they expressed their vision. The first paragraph of the Constitution states its objective clearly: “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
It’s appropriate for us to examine and ponder each part of the statement and evaluate how faithful we have been to this admonition:
- Can there be “a more perfect union” when there is a systematic refusal on the part of the representatives of different ideologies to listen to each other and work toward compromises that achieve incremental progress?
- Can there be “justice” when we have conscious and unconscious racial divide? And when “justice” often bends toward the super wealthy?
- Can we enjoy “domestic tranquility” when we have such extreme issues such as those currently challenging us, from unchecked global warming to the consequences of extreme wealth concentration?
- Do we need to spend such a large portion of our resources on “common defense” at the direct cost of underfunding our other objectives?
- How should we “promote general welfare” when state and federal governments would rather provide tax breaks to high income earners rather than fully fund programs that fully constitute the very elements of general welfare such as education and health services?
- How can we “secure the blessings of liberty” if our food is produced and distributed in a way that is detrimental to our health? If large corporations are allowed to deplete or poison our soil, our air, and our water? And if we replace farmland with still more strip malls or suburban housing developments?
Without jeopardizing the uniqueness of the American spirit of independence, why can’t we be willing to see that the “happiest” countries have managed to enjoy high income levels as well as provide the social services that make the individual pursuit of happiness easier than it currently is in the U.S.? Aren’t these countries offering lessons we might benefit from?
In this regard, we also point out that the six criteria used to make evaluations for the Happiness Index are not contrary to any of the elements of the vision outlined in the first paragraph of the U.S. Constitution.
In short, isn’t it shocking to us that the ideals declared by our founding fathers have been achieved more easily by the Northern European and some of the Western European nations than by the Americans who, at least conceptually, had a clear head start over the rest of the world?
What is coming to our awareness is that our health and our happiness is not simply within our control even for the super wealthy. It cannot be separated from our political choices, and our choices cannot be made on simplistic slogans. Each one of us must understand the issues and the broad consequences of our choices before we cast our votes. Voting is not a passive activity.
Our wellness and our happiness are interrelated. They require we make a greater effort than initially perceived. Just as wellness calls for responsibility concerning our bodies and lifestyle, we must also work at achieving a collective environment that more purposefully espouses the vision of the founding fathers.
Stay tuned for more on this topic in forthcoming blog posts.
Photo by Frank McKenna at Unsplash