Monday, April 21, 2008


At City Journal, Arthur C. Brooks explains that "Free People Are Happy People" and that such happiness requires that freedom be balanced with moral restraint:
Understanding freedom is a matter of no small importance. The Founders believed that it was one of at least three fundamental rights from God, along with life and the pursuit of happiness. These three rights are interrelated: not only does liberty, of course, depend on life, but the pursuit of happiness depends on liberty. In fact, evidence shows that freedom and happiness are strongly linked. [....]

In 2000, the GSS (General Social Survey) also asked adult Americans about their attitudes about freedom. About 70 percent of the respondents said that they were “completely free” or “very free,” and another 25 percent said that they were “moderately free.” Further, about 70 percent thought that Americans in general were completely or very free.

Perhaps such results are not surprising in the United States. But the GSS also revealed that people who said that they felt completely or very free were twice as likely to say that they were very happy about their lives as those who felt only a moderate degree of freedom, not much, or none at all. [....]

.... In a famous 1976 experiment, psychologists in Connecticut gave residents on one floor of a nursing home the freedom to decide which night of the week would be “movie night,” as well as the freedom to choose and care for the plants on their floor. On another floor of the same nursing home, residents did not receive these choices and responsibilities. The first group of residents—no healthier or happier than the second when the experiment began—quickly showed greater alertness, more activity, and better mood. A year and a half later, they were still doing better, and even dying at half the rate of the residents on the other floor. [....]

Religious freedom—known to the Founding Fathers as the “first liberty”—probably brings happiness, too. That assertion is hard to test internationally because there are no widely accepted global indexes of religious freedom. It is even hard to test within the United States because no one without religious freedom exists to tell us how unhappy he might be. Yet we do know that people who support freedom for those with unusual religious beliefs are happier than those who do not. In a 2006 survey asking if respondents endorsed the right of people with antireligious views to speak publicly, those who said “no” were a third likelier than those who said “yes” to say that they were not too happy. In other words, religious tolerance—even tolerance of anti-religiousness—is strongly linked with happiness.

Furthermore, many of the happiest people in America achieve their happiness through faith. When asked in the 2000 GSS about the experiences that made them feel the most free, about 11 percent of adults put religious and spiritual experiences at the top of the list. And these people were more likely than those mentioning any other experience to say that they were very happy.

Surprisingly, one reason that religious experience is satisfying may be that religion imposes constraints on behavior—and these constraints point to a kind of freedom that isn’t conducive to happiness. [....]

As Americans, we understand that people can be entrusted with freedom, which is why we guard it so jealously. But happiness requires that we also use freedom responsibly—which means, both as individuals and as a nation, balancing abundant private liberty with healthy personal morality. [the article]
Free People Are Happy People by Arthur C. Brooks, City Journal Spring 2008

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