Chasing One’s Tail

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We went to see The Pursuit of Happyness the other day. We had to go in the middle of the day, since Mrs H is still not well enough to maintain wakefulness through evening showings, the poor thing.

Don’t read on if you don’t want me to spoil it for you.

I really liked this film. It is the (seemingly true) story of one Chris Gardner (Will Smith), a struggling salesman who, in the face of financial meltdown, undergoes a competitive internship in the the hope of securing a happier life as a stockbroker. It was inspiring stuff.

The title refers to a exerpt from the United States Declaration of Independence. This was thrown together in 1776, after British settlers in America decided that (all things considered) George III was a bit of a rogue, and they were better off on their own. According to the document, The Pursuit of Happiness was one of the ‘unalienable rights’ endowed by the Creator to all mankind.

In the film, Gardner alludes to the notion that true happiness is elusive, and that, in reality, the pursuit is all we can hope for. I thought that this was an interesting perspective, which sadly crumbled when it turned out that, in fact, true happiness was readily attainable. You just have to be a stockbroker to get it.

For me, the film cut off slightly abruptly. I would have been interested to see whether his new life heralded the true happiness Gardner was expecting. I wanted to see whether this happy-go-lucky gentleman would find true fulfillment amongst the guffawing, convertible-driving fops, especially now that his marriage lay in tatters.

Call me a bore, but I wonder whether a safer bet would have been just to get a paid job, no matter how menial, in order to maintain a roof over his son’s head? I concede that this scenario would make a rubbish film, but I am left with a nagging feeling that Gardner’s pursuit of happiness was really just greedy and selfish.

According to Richard Layard, there is a relationship between wealth and happiness, but it only applies to incomes less than about $10,000. After this point, there is a plateau; in other words, after you have enough for the essentials, extra money does not bring about extra happiness. There are a range of fascinating reasons proposed, including the notion of diminishing returns: once we have lots of money, we get used to it and therefore want more. One rarely hears of a tycoon who decides that, at last, they finally have enough money and that they do not intend to accumulate any more.

Perhaps we’re all so consumed with the pursuit that we take for granted what we have. As one wag put it, ‘now and then, it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy’.

Or, as someone else once said:

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income … Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5: 10,20

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