Speaking events in Los Angeles, New York City and San Diego over a four-day period on “The Happiest Life” means not only red eyes and jet lag, but an awful bout of cognitive dissonance as the lectures on the literature and experience of happiness are occurring against a backdrop of mayhem and murder in Ukraine and Venezuela, bordered all around by the soft blur of inspirational biographies from Sochi.
Strange times, and bound to get stranger as the book’s release has generated a raft of requests from venues that ordinarily wouldn’t invite a conservative commentator within 10 miles of their doors: churches, colleges, colloquia on the good life.
No matter the venue, it is harder to extol on happiness and its building blocks as so much of the world staggers away from the stability required first for general happiness.
There will always be saints and mystics who can hit the mark amid sound and fury and the swinging of the slings of outrageous fortune. But for the most part, people need stability in their lives before they can be happy; the stability almost always associated with the rule of law, the undisturbed right to own and enjoy property, an economy based on free markets and transparent transactions, and faith communities shielded by a national commitment to religious liberty and all the diversity that entails.
The retreat of America from the world — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel really did float the idea we could get by with only eight aircraft carriers until Congress firmly re-committed to the 11 already in service or under construction — is everywhere accelerating.
“I don’t think this is a competition between the United States and Russia,” President Obama declared as Kiev burned and Venezuela convulsed, six months after Vladimir Putin cabined him in Syria and Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi went cold towards America even as he warmed to Moscow. Team U.S.A. beat Russia in hockey at the Putin Games, but there is very little evidence that we are anywhere else even on the same field.
The president has taken us on a holiday away from all that ails and troubles the world. Very bad things happen when we seek a pause in our responsibilities. Iran head-fakes us into status as a nuclear-enabler and China pushes our allies in Japan and India on a weekly basis. The lights have been out at the State Department since Hillary fled down the back stairs of Foggy Bottom the night of Sept. 11, 2012, and John Kerry‘s ringing declaration of climate change as “the greatest challenge of our generation.” (Not from the point of view of the bodies in Ukraine and Venezuela, of course. Their part of that generation is, well, dead.)
We have reached 1979 levels of ennui in America, but while Jimmy Carter had only a year plus of stumbling and bumbling left on his clock — and in that time he took some steps to kick start superpower thinking — President Obama is golfing his way to retirement. His happiest life will be split between Davos, Aspen, Honolulu and Chicago, and a wonderful one it will be.
The world, though, not so much. Not so much for America, either, whittled down to a back-bencher in a phantom League of Nations. A destination location for vacations. For stockpiling cash and buying dirt. Not for leading freedom and peace forward.
I’ll keep up being a bard for happiness, but with a codicil: The happiness Americans achieved over the past 45 years since the Age of Reagan began is being downsized. Our freedoms at home — religious liberty under assault by the war on faith seen in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods case, the weekly diktats from Health and Human Services on winners and losers under Obamacare — these are all tethers on freedom, and freedom is the “must have” of happiness. Freedom won’t grow again, at home or abroad, until America leads the world in growing the opportunity for faith, family, and freedom to flourish both at home and far beyond our shores.
Happiness is a serious problem, my pal Dennis Prager likes to say, and a subject worth much attention according to AEI’s Arthur Brooks. The three of us may hold “Happiness Summits” to spread that gospel. But not to much effect if neither party rises and defends American exceptionalism and the example it provides the world.