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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is Good for Your Health


By Machine Elf 1735 – Public Domain: Commons.Wikimedia.org



In 2005 a study conducted by Andrew Steptow and Michael Marmot at University College London, found that happiness is related to biological markers that play an important role in health. The researchers aimed to analyze whether there was any association between well-being and three biological markers: heart rate, cortisol levels, and plasma fibrinogen levels. Interestingly, the participants who rated themselves the least happy had cortisol levels that were 48% higher than those who rated themselves as the most happy. The least happy subjects also had a large plasma fibrinogen response to two stress-inducing tasks: the Stroop test, and tracing a star seen in a mirror image. Repeating their studies three years later Steptow and Marmot found that participants who scored high in positive emotion continued to have lower levels of cortisol and fibrinogen, as well as a lower heart rate. In Happy People Live Longer (2011), Bruno Frey reported that happy people live 14% longer, increasing longevity 7.5 to 10 years and Richard Davidson’s bestseller (2012) The Emotional Life of Your Brain argues that positive emotion and happiness benefit long-term health. Consistent results are that “apart from good health, happy people were more likely to be older, not smoke, have fewer educational qualifications, do strenuous exercise, live with a partner, do religious or group activities and sleep for eight hours a night.“ Happiness does however seem to have a protective impact on immunity. The tendency to experience positive emotions was associated with greater resistance to colds and flu in interventional studies irrespective of other factors such as smoking, drinking, exercise, and sleep.


“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“ is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of the “unalienable rights“ which the Declaration says have been given to all human beings by their Creator, and which governments are created to protect. The United States Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and then edited by the Committee of Five, which consisted of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. It was then further edited and adopted by the Committee of the Whole of the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The second section of text in the Declaration contains the phrase “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“.


We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;


A number of possible sources or inspirations for Jefferson’s use of the phrase in the Declaration of Independence have been identified, although scholars debate the extent to which any one of them actually influenced Jefferson. Jefferson (1743-1826) declared himself an Epicurean during his lifetime: this is a philosophical doctrine that teaches the pursuit of happiness and proposes autarchy, which translates as self-rule, self-sufficiency or freedom. The greatest disagreement comes between those who suggest the phrase was drawn from John Locke (1632-1704) and those who identify some other source.


Editor’s note: After reading about Epicurus (341-270 BCE) and John Locke, and knowing that Jefferson, an avid reader, would have read both philosophies in depth, we feel that he was greatly influenced by both. We are impressed with how long the concept of happiness, has taken to become rooted in human consciousness; and eventually understood to be a human value, that makes life worth living. Achieving a state of happiness, not necessarily constant, requires equal opportunities for all and brings about sustained global peace. Retracing: the concept of happiness was first written about in approximately 290 BCE. This brilliant idea was revived during the Age of Reason in Europe and the Age of Enlightenment in America. Finally, the concept of happiness rose from a philosophy of a few to a political understanding of more, when it became incorporated in the American Constitution, in 1776. In the 21st Century, this idea finally, reached global status when the United Nations, in 2013, declared March 20 as the International Day of Happiness as a way to recognize the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world. Look how long it’s taken for humans to pass this concept onto a planetary level to be taken seriously; approximately 2,316 years.  Often misunderstood as soft, pursuit of happiness is a value, so serious, it will enable humans around the world to work together on important issues and to reach much needed solutions.


John Locke

In 1689, Locke argued in his Two Treatises of Government that political society existed for the sake of protecting “property“, which he defined as a person’s “life, liberty, and estate“. In “A Letter Concerning Toleration,“ he wrote that the magistrate’s power was limited to preserving a person’s “civil interest“, which he described as “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body (absence of pain); and the possession of outward things“. He declared in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness“. According to those scholars who saw the root of Jefferson’s thought in Locke’s doctrine, Jefferson replaced “estate“ with “the pursuit of happiness“, although this does not mean that Jefferson meant the “pursuit of happiness“ to refer primarily or exclusively to property. Under such an assumption, the Declaration of Independence would declare that government existed primarily for the reasons Locke gave, and some have extended that line of thinking to support a conception of limited government. Benjamin Franklin was in agreement with Thomas Jefferson in downplaying protection of “property“ as a goal of government. It is noted that Franklin found property to be a “creature of society“ and thus, he believed that it should be taxed as a way to finance civil society. If, in reality, “courage and a heart devoted to the good of mankind are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellow creatures is a participation of this happy character. If this be the good of the individual, it is likewise that of mankind; and virtue no longer imposes a task by which we are obliged to bestow upon others that good from which we ourselves refrain; but supposes, in the highest degree, as possessed by ourselves, that state of felicity which we are required to promote in the world.“


The 17th-century was an enlightened period of history in which some philosophers began promoting that the well-being of our fellow humans is essential to the “pursuit of our own happiness“. William Wollaston’s The Religion of Nature Delineated describes the “truest definition“ of “natural religion“ as being “The pursuit of happiness by the practice of reason and truth“. An English translation of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui’s Principles of Natural and Politic Law prepared in 1763 extolled the “noble pursuit“ of “true and solid happiness“ in the opening chapter discussing natural rights. Comparable mottos worldwide include “liberte, egalite, fraternite“ (liberty, equality, fraternity) in France; “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit“ (unity, justice and liberty) in Germany and “peace, order, and good government“ in Canada. It is also similar to a line in the Canadian Charter of Rights: “life, liberty, security of the person“ (this line was also in the older Canadian Bill of rights, which added “enjoyment of property“ to the list). The phrase can also be found in Chapter III, Article 13 of the 1947 Constitution of Japan, and in President Ho Chi Minh’s 1945 declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. An alternative phrase “life, liberty, and property“, is found in the Declaration of Colonial Rights, a resolution of the First Continental Congress. The Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution declare that governments cannot deprive any person of “life, liberty, or property“ without due process of law. Also, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person“.


The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. The first report was published in 2012, the second in 2013, and the third in 2015. The World Happiness Report 2016 Update, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, was released in Rome in advance of UN World Happiness Day, March 20th, 2016. Leading experts across fields of economics, psychology, survey analysis, national statistics, health, public policy and more, describe how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations. The reports reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness. This report with its, Happiness Index, reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness as a criteria for government policy. The widespread interest in the World Happiness Reports, of which this is the fourth, reflects growing global interest in using happiness and subjective well-being, as primary indicators of the quality of human development. Because of this growing interest, many governments, communities and organizations are using happiness data, and the results of subjective well-being research, to enable policies that support better lives.


This year, for the first time, the World Happiness Report gives a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of well-being among countries and regions. In previous reports the editors have argued that happiness provides a better indicator of human welfare than do income, poverty, education, health and good government measured separately. In a parallel way, they now argue that the inequality of well-being provides a broader measure of inequality. They find that people are happier living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness. They also find that happiness inequality has increased significantly (comparing 2012-2015 to 2005-2011) in most countries, in almost all global regions, and for the population of the world as a whole. The year 2015 was a watershed for humanity, with the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by heads of state at a special summit at the United Nations in September 2015. Many countries in recent years have achieved economic growth at the cost of sharply rising inequality, entrenched social exclusion, and grave damage to the natural environment. The SDGs are designed to help countries to achieve a more balanced approach, leading to higher levels of well-being for the present and future generations.


Editor’s note: You can be sure that it was stunning to hear, last week, on Bloomberg radio, a discussion about GDP, capitalism, profit, and definitions of American and world values, and the illuminating suggestion that along with all other values, we should add happiness as a highly important bottom line. Along with GDP, reporters are now adding GHP. It’s been a long journey, from 290 BC to 2016, the concept of happiness has traveled from ancient Greece to Bloomberg radio. Time to celebrate!


World Happiness Index’s official site.



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