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home > archive > 2024 > this article

The national 'Happiness Deficit'

By Mark Alexander
web posted April 15, 2024

The conversation at my meetings sometimes turns to the roughly defined generation categories and the cultural differences between those generations. Our team is young, and I worry about them sometimes because they slog through the decaying detritus of contemporary political and cultural events every day. They have young families and are concerned about the future of those youngsters, as all generations have been to varying degrees, particularly since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. They are acutely aware of the risks to the future of American Liberty, and that adds some angst to their outlook.

For context, the relative stability of the agricultural age at the time of the American Revolution shifted dramatically over the next century toward urban centralized manufacturing and production, mechanized power, machine tools, etc. It was a seismic shift for traditional families and our culture as a whole.

What the parents on our staff — and young people of all walks — face today is the seismic shift associated with the Digital Age, the acceleration of technological and communication innovations in an economy centered on information tech and dominated by Big Tech oligarchs and their social media platforms. Some of that technology can be harnessed to serve us well, but unbridled use by those who don't understand its context or consequences saturates the senses in harmful ways that could not have been imagined at the turn of the 21st century.

Unlike every previous generation, young Americans are inundated with information, and much of it is bad, out of context, and overblown.

And now comes the technological "advance" of Artificial Intelligence — but AI in our news, policy, and opinion business is only as smart as the cumulative average in a moving marketplace of ideas. It is artificial but is far from intelligent, and whoever is producing most of that churn becomes the "Big Brother" of George Orwell's dystopian 1949 novel, 1984. Orwell's warning about totalitarianism, mass surveillance, and repressive regimentation of human groups is more relevant now than ever.

Sidebar: By the way, The Patriot Post is leading the way as "Certified AI Free," meaning no news or policy analysis in our publications is generated using AI. If other news sites want to maintain any integrity, they should follow our lead. Of course, we have always been and will continue to be "Certified Ad Free," unlike virtually all other news sites.

There is a lot of good humor shared in our staff meetings and editorial offices (some of which is followed immediately by repentance). It's an occupational necessity.

I'm sure it would not surprise you that our most widely read publication is Monday afternoon's humor edition. If you are not getting it, you can add "Cartoons and Memes" to your subscription here.

Your Patriot team puts a lot of energy into our good-humored Meme and Cartoon pages. Of course, we also include humor videos and links to our favorite Babylon Bee articles, and our weekly podcast, "The Pop Culture Contrarian," features our staff wise guys.

The point is that humor is an important salve for the spirit in "the times that try men's souls." Of course, I believe that gratitude shapes our attitude, and there is no better solace than praying for a grateful heart and joyful spirit and, for me personally, paying attention to simple blessings and mercies every day.

As the old guy at the staff table, a "Boomer," I came of age under Ronald Reagan. It was an era of renewal when strength, optimism, moral clarity, humility, and faith prevailed as presidential character traits, combined with a frequent dose of Reagan's good humor. Contextually, I knew then, as I do today, that times have been much worse for our country. In the last century alone, we survived two world wars, a Great Depression, the social and cultural disintegration of the '60s and '70s, and other lesser trials, and yet I am fully confident that, as President Reagan declared in 1992: "America's best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead."

The youngsters on our team came of age during the eight long years of Barack Obama's regime. That was followed by a fortuitous one-term reprieve after Donald Trump defeated Obama's deplorable heir-apparent, Hillary Clinton.

But now, our nation is under the perilous rule of the puppeteers controlling the inept and vacuous Joe Biden, who not only excels as the most prolific presidential prevaricator in history but has mastered the art of fomenting disunity.

If that seems disheartening, let me reiterate: Times have been much worse for our country before, and we will prevail.

While our editors and staff keep their heads above the muck, some among our Patriot ranks seem to be soaked to the bone in worry and fear, and as a result, too many have lost their perspective and their happiness. Our Founders understood almost 250 years ago that "the pursuit of Happiness" was essential, but you have to pursue it.

To that end, I draw your attention this week to Arthur Brooks, PhD, MPhil, MA, a devoutly faithful and politically conservative professor holding posts at both the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School. Yes, that Harvard.

If his name sounds familiar, that's because Brooks, 59, is president emeritus of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, which he led from 2009 to 2019.

Prior to AEI, he was a professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, when I was completing a graduate program there.

After observing and being alarmed by the vicious rancor, political divisions, and strident disunity following the 2016 election, Brooks started charting a path for a new professional direction. He joined Harvard's faculty five years ago with the goal of addressing what I call our nation's "happiness deficit," akin to the "great malaise" during Jimmy Carter's presidency. He has become one of the nation's leading experts on the subject, and his "Leadership and Happiness" course at Harvard Business School is now among the most popular of any classes on campus, even gaining wide media attention. His online course, "Managing Happiness," is also very successful.

This is not about the inane smiley-faced emoticon happiness but genuine happiness.

And by no means is the happiness deficit just impacting conservatives — there is an epidemic of leftist pathology manifesting in mass depression, anger, and hostility.

In 2020, Brooks was the featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, with Trump and Nancy Pelosi on the podium behind him. He recalls, "It was not exactly a friendly environment."

He told those gathered there: "Contempt kills relationships. Contempt kills love. Contempt is ripping our country apart." That was the theme of his 2019 book, Love Your Enemies, a best-seller among others, Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier (2023), From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life (2022), The Conservative Heart (2015), and The Road to Freedom (2012).

He added, "Publicly insulting others simply fuels the terrible national addiction to political hate," and that political transformation requires exiting our ideological echo chambers to speak respectfully with our political opponents.

That is precisely the formula that led to Ronald Reagan's extraordinary success. If you are old enough, you will recall how Reagan and his Democrat Party arch nemesis, House Speaker Tip O'Neill, were, as O'Neill recalled in his memoirs, best of friends "after 6 p.m." adding, "Before 6 p.m. it's all politics." Reagan once quipped of a Valentine card from O'Neill: "I knew it was from Tip because the heart was bleeding."

There was never any question that the relationship between Reagan and O'Neill was dignified and respectful, and it exuded the comity between these opponents.

After Brooks's Prayer Breakfast assertion about the futility of insulting others, almost 3,500 Christian political, social, and business leaders rose for a standing ovation. A moment later, Trump walked to the podium and said: "Arthur, I don't think I agree with you. I don't think Arthur is going to like what I'm about to say." Trump then broke with the traditional unity message and commenced to use the Prayer Breakfast platform to assail the "dishonest and corrupt" Democrats destroying our country.

It is not that he was wrong; in fact, Trump was absolutely right.

But he was wrong to say it when and how he did, and not connecting the dots on the timing and tone of such criticisms has done precisely what Brooks said: It has generated, as I noted in 2020, so much hatred and fear of Trump that it undermined his 2020 reelection bid, and the residue has created a steep election climb in 2024, especially if his opponent is not Biden.

Notably, Brooks said of Trump's rebuttal: "What amazes me about that is not that Donald Trump repudiated what I had to say — he was actually really nice to me — it's that the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, and I disagreed on national television and nothing happened to me."

Brooks also observed part of Trump's appeal: "He says what he thinks. There's nothing that's being hidden, there's nothing that we don't know. And you could say that's valuable on its face, too, whether we agree with him or not."

Indeed.

I would add that the larger part of Trump's appeal was, and remains, that despite all the deep state efforts to undermine his agenda, both his domestic and foreign policy achievements rivaled those of Reagan's two terms. You can read more about those in our "Trump Legacy" series: Foreign Policy Achievement; Blacks, Hispanics, and Blue-Collar Workers; Trump's Deregulation Record; Domestic Policy Achievement; and Political Impact.

Brooks now offers this advice about the depressive state suffered by too many Americans: "So, what do we need? We actually need more happiness. We need a scientific study of it, we need to teach it, we need to embed it in the way that leaders lead, and I need to bring it on as big a scale as I possibly can." Of his goal, he says, "What I'm trying to do is create not a supply curve for ideas, but a better demand curve for better ideas by creating more of a hunger for happiness — I'm starting a happiness revolution."

I have compiled many quotes from sagacious folks over the years, and here are a few from Brooks: "You can't keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once, and move on. ... Happiness is a choice that we make every day. ... The best way to help yourself is to help others. ... It's not about how much you have, but how much you give. ... True success is measured by the impact we have on others. ... Your attitude determines your altitude in life. ... The key to happiness is gratitude. ... Never underestimate the power of a small act of kindness. ... Success is not measured by how much you accumulate, but by how much you contribute."

Coming back to our Founders' assertion about happiness in the Declaration of Independence, Brooks asserts: "The main issue in the new American culture war between free enterprise and statism is not material riches — it is human flourishing. This is a battle about nothing less than our ability to pursue happiness."

The point is that too many conservatives dig themselves into a hole so far that daylight can't reach them, and happiness eludes them.

Our editorial team keeps a healthy perspective on what is temporal and what is eternal, and their happiness is rooted there. We embrace the same principle noted by John Adams in 1825, a few months prior to his death: "The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it."

However, if you know somebody in a hole, somebody who has lost their happiness, give them a hand up and out! ESR

Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.

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