“Happiness is peace after strife, the overcoming of difficulties, the feeling of security and well-being. The only really happy folk are married women and single men.”
– H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy
“Of all the cankers of human happiness, none corrodes it with so silent, yet so baneful a tooth, as indolence.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Letter to his daughter, Martha Jefferson.
Which famously bigoted hero of liberty knows happiness? Not Mencken!
H.L.’s flare-up of Nietzschean misogyny gets it flat wrong. Marriage has a bigger positive effect on happiness for men than for women. Married men are much happier than single men, and, it seems, even a skoche happier than married women. The feeling of security and well-being, are surely components of happiness. But what these have to do with the following sentence are a mystery lost to time.
Of course, I’m talking about the cramped, mundane happiness of the bourgeouis here, not the wild, expansive happiness of the overflowing soul and indomitable will. As Nietzshe said, “Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does.”
Jefferson, very much the Englishman, nails it. Unemployment is VERY bad for you. Pace economists, it ain’t experienced as “leisure.” Among the most important things for happiness are a sense of self-efficacy and self-control, and this sense slips when we’re not productively engaged. We begin to feel adrift in the world, tossed by malign external forces we are impotent to resist.
So score one for TJ, who suggests a get-up-and-at-’em slogan for t-shirts and public school bulletin boards everywhere: “Indolence: the canker that corrodes with a baneful tooth!”