| An Examination of Happiness Throughout the Classes
I come from a middle class family. With influence from neither guardian nor peer, I developed early on a respect for people who get through life in a tougher situation than I, and a mild jealousy for those who had excessive luxuries. As my views developed and I matured, that jealousy disappeared. The life one lives in wealth, I began to see, creates no more happiness than a life one lives without the opportunity for extravagance. If one ponders as to the stereotypical mindset of the American citizen, the answer would undoubtedly come from this nations most famous and influential document, the Declaration of Independence; “…They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As American citizens, those three rights are given to us at birth; but the right to pursue happiness does not grant the happiness itself. As the only “unfulfilled” right, it is natural one would wish to acquire this happiness.
Happiness is a concept. Interpreted by different people in different ways, it is not a notion that needs refining, rather it is one that accepts manipulation. In the early 19th century, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel introduced the concept of a universal mind limited by the individual. Although this theory quickly lost ground and was replaced by refined (although somewhat related) Marxist ideas, the model he used for the mind can be applied to happiness. There is a universal concept of happiness; most would describe it as a state of well-being, or a time of positive emotion or pleasure. Whatever this notion of happiness is, it is obtained by each individual in a unique or limited way.
This brings us to the question of how happiness is obtained. Happiness is obtained through despair. It is not a direct relationship; the act causing the despair itself does not translate into happiness, but the contrast between the feeling of despair and a positive experience creates the sought after joy. An idea heavily pushed by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, this belief that happiness and unhappiness must always lay in balance explains why people of all backgrounds and incomes can experience the same degrees of delight and despair. Luxuries that the wealthy take for granted are items the poor can only dream of. However, like running water, food, and heat in my house, even the most extravagant luxuries seep into the every day routine of life when they are accepted as “normal”.
To what point has this rant been leading? In my youth it was the (in my opinion) undeserving complaints of the wealthy (and I’m sure for those not as well off it was/is the complaints of anyone who “has more”) that most bothered me. When a fellow kid would complain that they had just broken their brand new play station and would have to wait until the following day until their parents would buy them a new one, it made me loathe those that had the lifestyle conforming to those complaints. However after many years, I now realize that it is downright unfair to directly criticize anyone for their flaunting of wealth through their high standard of happiness. A more balanced society where the wealthy aren’t as prominent would certainly be nice from my personal perspective, but in present day America that is simply not going to happen. Don’t get me wrong; I am by no means pushing for an “equal wealth” nation of communist roots, but one of more equal opportunity to all classes would be a nice change. However for now I am content with my newfound acceptance of unhappiness at any level, even for the most outlandish reasons, as I accept them as contrasts from whatever that individual’s normal everyday happiness may be; for as Franklin would preach, pleasure and pain must always remain in balance.