What can explain the cheating, the lying, the whoring, the power-mad behavior exhibited by many Congressmen? Cases in point are not the point of this post. But, what can explain their thinly disguised contempt for the American people and their addictions to money, alcohol, drugs, and sex? Most importantly, what can explain their voting for policies that are ruining the nation? No doubt, many are well-intentioned people saddled with ordinary human frailties and ignorant of economics.
As the saying goes, “But wait, there is more.” Congress, as a collective body, is not only ignorant of economics; importantly, it is ignorant of what brings happiness to human beings.
The idea of the “pursuit of happiness” is in our societal DNA. Yet, this “inalienable right” as contained in the Declaration of Independence has often puzzled people. What exactly does this mean? Clearly, there is no right to happiness; and certainly, others are not obligated to make you happy. You are simply free to pursue happiness, as long as you don’t trample on the rights of others to pursue their happiness.
Jefferson had no illusions about the sources of happiness. He told us directly what he thought were the sources of happiness:
Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.
Be assiduous in learning, take much exercise for your health, and practice much virtue. Health, learning, and virtue will ensure your happiness; they will give you a quiet conscience, private esteem, and public honor. Beyond these we want nothing but physical necessaries, and they are easily obtained.
Jefferson’s wisdom is consistent with the latest academic research. Once we are beyond the necessities of life—and no, these necessities do not include SUVs and McMansions—hedonic changes do little to increase our happiness. In my forthcoming book The Inner-Work of Leadership, I write:
In her book The How of Happiness, psychology professor Sonia Lyubomirsky found “about 10% of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations—that is whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc.” She found that changes in life circumstances—when not accompanied by internal changes—have only a temporary effect on happiness…
Lyubomirsky systematically debunks our myths about happiness. Is happiness out there for us to find? No, it isn’t. She explains, “Happiness more than anything, is a state-of-mind, a way of perceiving and approaching ourselves and the world in which we reside.” She offers evidence confirming that happiness is not found in our circumstances. She observes, “The reality is that the elements that determine our happiness are with us right now waiting to be taken advantage of.” In other words, Lyubomirsky’s research confirms what the perennial wisdom has taught for a long time: We don’t obtain happiness from people or from what we do, we bring our happiness or lack of it to our circumstances. In this world, many choose against their own happiness because they do not understand the source of happiness.
Back to our Congressmen. Yes, they are economically illiterate; but also, they are seeking happiness where it cannot be found—more money, more power, more prestige, a bigger house, another drink, another sexual liaison.
Happiness is an inside job. Those who don’t understand this are dangerous to themselves and to others. A Congressman addicted to more money, in a false pursuit to relieve their existential unhappiness, will sell their vote to the highest bidding lobbyist. A Congressman addicted to power, however trivial it is, will rarely vote against party leadership even when handed a thousand page bill that they have never read. And when the outcome is disastrous, they relieve their guilt with the lie that they are serving the “public interest.”
Of course, there is no such thing as a collective “public interest.” The “cash for clunkers” program hailed a “wild success” benefited some auto dealers and some consumers; it hurt the bulk of taxpayers and consumers in the market for a good used car or car parts.
Even if it were possible to formulate policy in the public interest, our Congressmen would never discern it. They are “soul sick;” in their quest to find happiness where it is not, they have separated themselves from and not joined with society.
They can’t feel that inner peace that they are searching for, because they are running too fast, and they are afraid to meet what is inside. In the process, they are destroying this country with the decisions they are making.
There is little that we can do; until collectively, we slow down enough to look inside and make another choice. As within, so without. When we change, so will the politicians.