An open letter to President Obama on happiness

An open letter to President Obama on happiness

(cross posted on the Huffington Post)

Dear President Obama,

I was recently traveling for an extended period of time, which provided me with some distance from our great country and an opportunity to process my feelings on the past ten years. I realized that I have something I want to tell you, and was sad to imagine that you wouldn’t listen. Even sadder was the realization that you would probably think me a loony for even bringing it up.

The people in this country are not happy, and as our leader, this should be your number one concern. While we try to spur economic activity, lower taxes, or make healthcare affordable, let’s remember why we are engaging in economic activity at all: to better our lives, our families, and our relationships. Any conversation about material wealth is automatically also about happiness, so while we are discussing the how of achievement let’s be sure we are discussing the why.

Happiness on a national scale is difficult (impossible, really) to fully quantify. But you can feel it in the air and intuit it from watching television and engaging in conversations with people around the country.

We mistake comfort with satisfaction, falling under the delusion that if we can accumulate more (and especially more than each other) we will be happy. The national discourse is based on fear. News networks manipulate our baser feelings of distrust, self-preservation, and xenophobia because in a state of fear, we are pawn-like and malleable. Politicians stoke tensions with attacks and distractions instead of progressing toward solutions.  We are told who to vote for, what to buy, what stations to watch, and how much more money we need to make — and that meaningless consumerism is our patriotic duty.

And in the quest to make more money we find ourselves overworked, estranged from our families, and lacking the inclination to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We live in technological isolation, spending less time interacting with each other face to face.

And yes, this is your job. You are our leader, not just our CEO, and we elected you to point the way forward. You know that being President is about more than making and selling legislation, and the enormous magnitude of our current happiness crisis demands attention from the top. You must enable the rest of us, by your example, to return to our communities. You must not simply rise above our sick media climate; you must address it head-on.

I believe that changes can be made without new laws and rules: what we need more is leadership. Your campaign showed the power of an idea whose fire propagates across communities. Meet with corporate leaders and encourage them to find concrete solutions to improving markers of happiness. Encourage city development and the growth of programs that bring people together as communities. Do it with no religious or political aims other than making this country a happier place for its own sake (though that, I would argue, is a deeply political aim.)

No leader can *make* 300 million people happy, but you can be instrumental in turning the country away from a toxic climate to one that facilitates happiness. Your national day of service was a great start.

A country with stronger relationships between its citizens is a country better able to solve its own problems; new ideas will flourish. But you will also be facilitating for your people something so much more powerful than short-term economic gains. For that fundamental change, you would be remembered forever.

Do I sound crazy? Just give it a moment or two of thought. When you look back on your life, what change do you want to see that you’ve made in the world?

Voting for you anyways,