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The Meaning of Happiness

For many of us, happiness is the goal of life. “I just want to be happy,” you might hear your friend say in a time of distress. “Once I’m done with this term paper [difficult project, tough workout, etc.], I’ll be so happy. I can’t wait for that time to come,” we’ve all said.

This strong desire for happiness is clearly reflected in our culture. Our fairy tales always end “happily ever after.” The hit song of the summer was “Happy” by Pharrell. On a more serious note, our country’s Declaration of Independence references our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

In fact, some argue that the point of public policy is to maximize people’s happiness. John Adams, in a 1776 letter, wrote that just as “the happiness of the individual is the end of man,” so “the happiness of society is the end of government.” Here at AEI, we recently launched The Pursuit of Happiness, a project meant to examine the topic.

But are we misled to place such a focus on happiness? Is it a sign of our fallen nature, or is it an expression of something good and true? Well, the answer to that question depends on how you define the term.

So what is happiness anyway? What did it mean in the past? And how do we define it today? Does it have any relation to suffering? Combining deep insight with humor [and fashionable eyewear], these were the questions explored in a recent conversation between Eric Metaxas, Arthur Brooks, and Greg Thornbury: