E Pluribus Unum & World Happiness in the Age of Covid 19

Out of many, one.  An instructive motto of America.  On March 20, 2020, the UN released its annual World Happiness Report.  According to an article by CNN, the report lists the “happiest” countries based on various criteria that “support well-being.” https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/worlds-happiest-country-wellness-2020/index.html. Those criteria are: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.  Interestingly, note that the criteria support a different end, well-being rather than happiness.  Interchanging words when discussing happiness is a common practice because it is both an amorphous concept and a complicated subject when people seek to define it.  Happy is a big issue and its pursuit is a subject that commands study and reporting.  However, the study and reporting should actually focus on the philosophical aspect of happiness.

The World Happiness Report is no report on happiness and its premises are not the foundational measures of people’s happiness.  Happiness is a state of being in an individual.  A country or a city cannot be “happy” and it follows that one country neither be happier nor more unhappy than another.  Enter E Pluribus Unum.  John Locke spoke of “loveliness” and how several lovely acts in one’s life add up to something greater in one’s being.  So too does the sum of happy pursuits contribute to an end, one’s state of happiness.  A family, a town, a state and a country are merely the sum its parts, aka its people.  It follows that those who are able to pursue happiness, and actually accept the moral responsibility to do so, contribute to a better society.  E pluribus unum.

Throughout history, only one country has placed the pursuit of happiness at the forefront of its creation—The United States of America.  Life is a given.  Liberty is a given (albeit on sliding scale dependent on the country of origin).  The pursuit of happiness is dependent on only one factor, the individual.  America’s Founders called out this unalienable right as a recognition and as an instruction.  Each individual possesses the right to live in a certain way and the moral obligation to live in that certain way.  That way is called the pursuit of happiness.  Simply put, it is a life lived through virtuous personal personal advancement without stepping on the same right of another.  Aristotle spoke of evaluating a life lived based on the sum of happy, virtuous acts at one’s end.  Happiness is state of being, an end in itself, advanced only from within.  An individual’s life is the sum of one’s pursuits.  A country is the sum of its parts.  E pluribus unum.

The World Happiness Report, like the typical unhappy individual, focuses on outside influences such as environmental factors, discrimination, government programs and so on to determine whether a country is happy.  While the study does look at some more individualized factors, its focus primarily on outside influences ignores the most important factors influencing happiness.  Time and again, interpersonal relationships, a true life’s purpose, expression of gratitude and one’s faith play the largest roles in one’s happiness.  In labeling a country, i.e. a collective, as “happy” these foundational  happiness inducers are not considered.  In reality, the study is no happiness study at all, but rather a ranking of the best countries in which to live as decided by those who value certain collective ideas over individual rights.  Pursuers of happiness will choose the individual rights option every time.  Pursuers of happiness will choose America every time.  E pluribus unum.

The real distinction here is between individual responsibility that rises from the right to pursue happiness versus “environmental factors” or the state’s support for collectivized happiness.  The age only philosophical debate of freedom of action versus equality of outcomes is as exposed as ever in the philosophy of happiness.  America is the center of the debate because it is the “happiest country” by virtue of protecting its people’s right to pursue it.  Added up, the happiness is the sum of the parts.  When the huddled masses line up to pour into Finland, Norway and the like, then maybe additional studies will be warranted. For now, the only conclusive happiness study is the one that began in 1776.  E pluribus unum.

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