Interest in promoting happiness has grown to the point where there are calls for it to be taught in schools. But there is no formula for happiness, and attempts to teach it may conflict with other things schools want to instil in childrenby Adam Phillips / March 28, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
There is a famous sentence in Thomas Jefferson’s declaration of independence that formulates something essential about what most modern liberals believe about both government and education: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Some of us might not believe in the creator part, and all of us would assume now that by men Jefferson means men and women, but probably none of us would quibble with the idea that people are born, if not created, equal, and that they have a right to life and liberty. But what does it mean to have an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness? At first sight, it seems to be a pretty good idea; no one, presumably, wants to promote the pursuit of unhappiness. If we are convinced of anything now, it is that we are pleasure-seeking creatures who want to minimise the pain and frustration of our lives. We are creatures who, perhaps unlike any other animal, pursue happiness.