Friday, May 23, 2008

Pursuing your Happiness

Tibor R. Machan

When the Founders made happiness part of America’s political fabric they made clear that what each of us has a right to is the pursuit of it. As with all individual rights in this political tradition, the right to the pursuit of happiness is a right to take actions of certain sorts, ones that are aimed at achieving our happiness. Even the most basic right, to one’s life, is a right to take a great many actions. Life, after all, consists of being active! The right to private property, too, is a right to take actions that result in the acquisition of valued items.

Sadly, of course, while the Founders of America did give serious thought to the right to the pursuit of happiness, there was no consensus at all in the country, nor is there today, that pursuing happiness is a good thing, that it is something we all ought to do. Indeed, most moralists have tended to argue the opposite—it is renouncing one’s happiness that makes one a good person! Unselfishness is good, selfish pursuits such as wanting to be happy are bad.

OK, that debate is not going to get resolved here. I will just assume that happiness is something worth pursuing—it isn’t just the right to this pursuit that’s a good thing. But at this point one can ask another question, namely, how one can effectively pursue happiness. It is a big question but I will dodge this one too—almost. Instead I wish to explore just how any individual—almost—can improve his or her chances of being happy, of enriching his or her life in the broad sense of becoming better and better off as a human being. I want to focus on a small part of this kind of self-enhancement, of becoming happy.

One way that our happiness can be improved upon, of course, is technology. Indeed, the central point of technology is to help human beings to become happy or at least happier than they are. Gadgets are a clear, uncontroversial case in point. They reduce or even eliminate chores in our lives, helping us save a great deal of time which we then can spend on a great variety of rewarding activities. But some of the new high tech devices of our day do even more—they make possible some extra enjoyments, ones not available in the past.

Consider, for instance, that if one travels a good bit and has a laptop computer with Internet capability, one is now able to listen to innumerable radio stations from across the globe, including some that play nothing but a great variety of types of musical fare. You can be doing work in Europe or Asia but in the evening spend time not just reading a good book but also listening to your favorite classical, jazz or country music station. (One such Internet offering is called and has a dozen plus music stations with hardly any interruptions.) If music isn’t your fare, well there are newspapers and magazines to read “on line.” I personally have a pretty rich collection of photographs, including several dozen very appealing works of art which I can run as a slide show. I personally gain immense satisfaction from having photos of friends and family and places I have visited around the globe and a wide variety of paintings available too look at, all the while listening to my favorite music.

Not everyone will make use of the Internet for such purposes but I am willing to bet that most people can find it a rich source of pleasure that suits their tastes and preferences. There is also the Internet based phone system, such as Skype, that for but a few cents makes it possible to avoid the expense of hotel phones and reach friends and families from virtually anywhere.

Now as I see it if one is just a little bit computer savvy, one has a gold mine of resources for improving one’s life in small and not so small ways. One can keep up with important information, of course, but I am now referring to matters that make one’s life more enjoyable than it otherwise would be.

Indeed, it is arguable that if happiness—which consists of a variety of activities and endeavors—is something that human beings not only have a right to pursue but ought to seek, it is our responsibility to find out how new technology will help us be happier than we would be without it. There is much to be upset about as we go through our lives but there is also a great deal that is quite rewarding, if only we pay attention to the world and take advantage of what all it has to offer.