Happiness and Excellence

Political columnist George Will in a thoughtful September 2021 meta-essay "The pursuit of happiness is happiness" (from his book American Happiness and Discontents) observes:

Although there are many kinds of colleges and universities, the idea of a university is inherently aristocratic: Higher education is not for everyone, and it is not primarily vocational or even "practical," as this is commonly understood. Rather, institutions of higher education – some much more than others – should be answers to a question posed by Alexis de Tocqueville. His "Democracy in America," which has rightly been called the greatest book about a nation written by a citizen of another nation, implicitly but insistently asked this: Can a nation so thoroughly committed to equality cultivate and celebrate excellence, which distinguishes the few from the many? Much depends on our being able to answer this question in the affirmative. Much depressing evidence suggests we cannot.

... and concludes:

It has been well said that the United States is the only nation founded on a good idea, the proposition that people should be free to pursue happiness as they define it. In recent years, however, happiness has been elusive for this dyspeptic nation, in which too many people think and act as tribes and define their happiness as some other tribe's unhappiness. As a quintessentially American voice, that of Robert Frost, said, "The best way out is always through." Perhaps the information, the reasoning and, I hope, the occasional amusements in newspaper columns can help readers think through, and thereby diminish, our current discontents.

They will diminish if, but only if Americans adhere to two categorical imperatives: They should behave as intelligently as they can, and should be as cheerful as is reasonable. The pursuit of individual happiness, and of a more perfect union, never reaches perfect fulfillment, but never mind. "The struggle itself toward the heights," wrote Albert Camus, "is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

For Americans, the pursuit of happiness is happiness.

(cf Independence Day (2001-07-04), Knowledge and Public Happiness (2003-07-29), Pursuit of Happiness (2008-11-19), Habitual Virtue (2008-12-18), Happiness Buffer (2013-12-22), Habits of Unhappy People (2014-03-11), Read What You Need (2016-01-16), Mantra - Happiness Is (2018-03-20), ...) - ^z - 2021-11-10