WANT TO GET AMERICANS TO AGREE ON SOMETHING?
ASK US IF WE’RE HAPPY. In an era in which we can’t reach con-senus on the dangers of the deficit, the wisdom of the war, or even the color of the map, but a clear majority stake a personal clear claim on Happiness.
In a TIME poll, 78% of all those surveyed said they feel that way most or all the time. But beneath the national contentment there’s evidence of a creeping dis-satisfaction too. Why else are so many of us flocking to therapists, consulting divorce lawyers, scarfing Prozac? Why do so many reach mid-life with the surprising sense of emptiness? Why does the self-help book remain such a reliable cash machine? In a society as wealthy and privileged as the U.S.’s, what, after all, does it take to find real satisfaction in life?
Joy, as events abruptly reminds us, is a real fragile thing. In the suffering of millions in the Asian tsunami and in the years of fear and grief and grief that have followed 9/11 it has become clearer than ever how all manner of life tremors - -tectonic, economic, personal and political—can sometimes make the pursuit of happiness seem like a trivial one. YET, we cannot live without it! The Founding Fathers understood this, seeing something noble, essential and universal in the human yearning to be happy.
In the two centuries since, we’ve tried to make good on that pledge, living large not just on our food and wealth and pop culture but also on deeper, richer things. We seek rapture in our spirituality, love in our families, bliss in our art and poetry. Even our most perilous explorations are conducted with a certain unique American exuberance. Know the first word moonwalker Pete Conrad spoke as he jumped from the final rung of his lunar-module ladder? “Whoopee!”
The pages that follow, TIME’s third annual Mind & Body special issue on health, explore how work, marriage, religion, money, health, and even laughter itself lead to (and flow from) a state of happiness. We may not always be able to find it, but we know when we have arrived. Sometime a road map .may help.
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