Is there anything more American than the pursuit of happiness? Not merely written into the Declaration of Independence, it seems to be one of the more important metrics by which we measure our progress through life. In 2016 I remember reading a fascinating article on Vox.com by Ruth Whippman, a British writer, who made an intriguing observation after having lived in both countries. Americans’ obsession with being happy, and our many efforts to achieve it, she wrote, was in fact making us miserable. Some interesting research backs up the idea that the more you value happiness, the less happy you are.
In this issue’s cover story, Scott Barry Kaufman explores how a psychologically rich life, not necessarily a happy one, might yield a higher return on investment, so to speak. If emotional growth is of value to you, a wide range of feelings, challenges and experiences—even bad ones—might give you the good life you’ve been seeking (see “In Defense of the Psychologically Rich Life”). This is a comforting concept during a time of so much challenge and uncertainty. And it reminds me of a quote from journalist Hunter S. Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “ ‘Wow! What a Ride!’ ”
This article was originally published with the title “That Thoroughly-Used-Up Kind of Life” in SA Mind 31, 6, 2 (November 2020)