When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and had it co-signed by our forefathers, I’m sure they all had lofty goals in mind in their quest for “the pursuit of happiness.” More accurately, “happiness” 236 years ago probably meant straying as far away as possible from anything that made people overtly unhappy – war, poverty, disease, imprisonment, death. I try to put myself in the shoes of these young Americans-to-be and wonder what would have made a citizen happy in the year 1776 compared with 2012:
1776: Americans planted their own seeds, watered and tended their farms or gardens, then harvested, prepared and cooked their food. They were happy not to starve.
2012: Americans are only happy if they can super-size their meal and get it NOW! Except for the ones on diets. They prefer to starve.
1776: After half a year of building it themselves, Americans found pleasure in moving into their stone, brick or wooden homes on their own homesteads.
2012: Americans are happy to pitch a tent in the freeway off ramp bushes as long as the highway patrol doesn’t see them. Other Americans are happy to live in their own homes until those houses are foreclosed. Then they are not so happy.
1776: Americans were happy to grow cotton, spin it into thread, weave it into fabric, cut out the fabric patterns, and then sew their clothes that they passed on from sibling to sibling.
2012: Americans are happy to buy as many clothes as possible until they’ve maxed out their credit cards. They are only happy for the first nano-second that they’re actually wearing those outfits. They’re still paying for those clothes long after the apparel has gone out of fashion, and their younger siblings refuse to wear them because they’ve gone out of fashion.
1776: Doctors used leeches to drain poisoned blood in an effort to keep their patients healthy and happy.
2012: Insurance companies are leeches who drain the life’s blood from those who are insured, and yet many of those patients are still not particularly healthy. Those without insurance either die, go into debt for the rest of their lives, or rack up billions of dollars in bills that the American taxpayer gets to pay. No one is happy. Well… except for maybe the insurance companies.
1776: Americans were happy to get a free education. Children learned how to read and write at an early age in public schools; however higher learning was a privilege only for wealthy white men.
2012: Although all Americans are offered a free public school education, it is often greatly criticized, and many young adults graduate without knowing how to read and write. Higher learning is available for all Americans – as long as they score 2400 on the SAT and allow themselves to go into permanent debt from student loans. Or they’re wealthy white men.
1776: Early Americans from all social classes gladly fought in the Colonial War to be free from British tyranny.
2012: It’s primarily just the lower social classes who enlist in the war against Afghanistan to be free from… I’m not exactly sure, but I don’t think anyone is happy about it.
1776: People found bliss in simple pastimes like reading a book or conversing with friends.
2012: Americans with jobs work too many hours and spend too much time on their commute, so they don’t have time for a happy pastime. Americans who want that job but are unemployed are too broke and depressed to be happy doing anything. Those who deliberately don’t work are the happiest of all. They watch reality tv on their big screens all day and fantasize that they’ll be discovered on American Idol, or they will be the star of the next Entorage. They like to converse with their friends by text and Facebook and badmouth all the haters out there.
1776: People often put quill and ink to paper to document their day in their diaries and journals, recreating their happy moments. Unfortunately, these diaries are often lost or destroyed, so their lives and thoughts are gone with them, and we’ll never know how truly happy they were.
2012: Millions of people tap away at their computers, iPhones and iPads in their web logs (blogs) bitching about their day, or how things were so much better 236 years ago. Then they hit “send” or “upload,” and it’s all there for the universe to see… forever. They might actually be happy, but posterity sees them as selfish, money-grubbing, ungrateful sloths.
Maybe 236 years from now, in the year 2248, Americans will again be happy just to have clothes on their backs, food in their tummies, and a roof over their heads.
Or they’ll look upon 2012 as the good ol’ days.
Funny how things always seem happier in retrospect.
I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July!