08 Mar America’s pursuit of happiness
Happiness, in the recent Will Smith movie, is spelled “Happyness.” Scrawled on a San Francisco building, the word hovers like a magical incantation over this rags-to-riches tale based on the life of Chris Gardner. Homeless men who become millionaire stockbrokers may be few and far between, but “The Pursuit of Happyness” title touches on something more broadly shared: Happiness itself has a fresh currency in the culture. Depleted by a war that seems endless and insoluble, aquiver over stock and housing market bubbles, and existentially uneasy in a post-9/11 world, we’re collectively in search of some transforming “happyness” that requires new ways of thinking and even spelling to capture what it might mean to us now.
Books and seminars on the subject proliferate, with philosophers, cognitive psychologists, economists and art critics weighing in. There’s a thriving academic field, complete with college curricula, a journal and conferences, known as happiness studies. The leaders of an international Happiness Foundation, which offers consulting services to socially oriented nonprofit organizations, believes they’ve tapped a force to change the world. “Happiness breeds happiness,” according to the foundation’s statement of philosophy. “And the more happiness there is in the world, the less we have to worry about the threat of war, disease and economic hardship.” Being happy, it seems, shall set us all free.
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