By Victoria Lynn Hall
Out of all of the episodes of “Ask Jesse”, “The Pursuit of Happiness” one is my favorite.
This episode began with me publicly sharing a frustration I often shared privately with Jesse which was, why don’t people’s politics always reflect their values?
The short answer, as explained in the clip below, is that many people just aren’t as affected by bad political policy as others and so it easier for them to overlook that discrepancy.
The longer answer, which evolved over the course of our conversation, is that since the birth of our nation there has been a contradiction between the values and ideals we aspire to and our politics, mostly, if not entirely, due to the inequity of our economic system.
The clearest example of this, as we discussed, is the fact that many of our founding fathers owned slaves. It seems hard to imagine today how they justified declaring all men are created equal and then treated some men, women and children as their personal property.
And yet we are still defying that principle in barely more subtle ways and being influenced to justify or live in denial of it. Jesse explained how communities have been decimated by policy that benefits corporate interests and yet this isn’t discussed or addressed in mainstream circles.
Again we aren’t living up to the preamble of the document that Abraham Lincoln called “a rebuke and a stumbling-block to tyranny and oppression.” How can we declare that everyone has a right to Iife, liberty and the pursuit of happiness when there are millions who are struggling to get their basic needs met? And those of us who aren’t struggling, are we really pursuing happiness or are we worried that if we don’t do what it takes to get ahead, we will be left behind?
As I said to Jesse, it seems to me that the most basic requirement in the pursuit of happiness would be to have the security of our basic needs being met. But beyond that, how does the pursuit of material wealth contribute to happiness? Jesse agreed with me that at a certain point it actually has the opposite effect and gave some clear examples.
In fact, Jesse explained how studies show that wealth inequality pretty much makes everyone miserable. To me, this proves that we do inherently hold the values that Jefferson identified and that not adhering to them has the consequence of robbing us of the things that do make us happy like connection and belonging.
So what is the solution? There are many possible ones out there but I don’t believe they will ever get serious consideration until we start to look at ourselves as a society and individuals and ask ourselves what really makes us happy and what we value. Jesse spoke very thoughtfully about how we could be living closer to our values and how our ingrained thoughts about class divisions are a challenge to that:
Ultimately, as Jesse says, “We need to stop seeing the economy as pathways where certain people can get rich.” And instead see it, in its current form, as an impediment to ensuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Only then will we be able to reimagine it as something that truly grants us all independence from tyranny and oppression.
In this episode I spoke of my admiration for the work of Brené Brown, which has been instrumental in my choosing the right priorities. I highly recommend checking out her website and looking into her work if you are not already familiar with it.
I referenced this Washington Post article about the psychological toll exacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jesse brought up the subject of Thomas Paine. I suggest the Thomas Paine National Historical Association website as a good place to begin learning more on the life, works and legacy of Paine.
Jesse also recommends reading this study on how wealth reduces compassion.
And because we entitled this episode “The Pursuit of Happiness”, this song by a great band of that name (from their phenomenal debut album, “Love Junk“, produced by Todd Rundgren) keeps playing in my head, so I thought I would share it here too:
Watch/listen to our full episode below or on YouTube where you can subscribe to all of our video content. We would also like to thank Kim D. for contributing her fabulous song, “Corporation Coup” for use as a theme for our videos, you can find the full recording of this song at: https://soundcloud.com/wondergalaxy13/corporation-coup
A Los Angeles native, Jesse Crall graduated from UCLA’s English Department before working as a copywriter, script reader and project manager for an engineering firm.
A self taught artist and creative entrepreneur, Victoria Lynn Hall lives in the Kansas City area with 4 spoiled cats. She believes in art and the magic of kindness.