By Liah Greenfeld
Our Declaration of Independence includes the pursuit of happiness among the inalienable human rights, alongside life itself. It is so included because the founding fathers evidently assumed that such pursuit was a human universal of the most important, that human beings, in other words, have always and everywhere had the capacity for experiencing happiness and have been naturally drawn to it. The readers of this blog would, probably, agree with this assumption and it is quite likely that many would consider happiness the very purpose of human existence. And yet, this assumption is wrong. Happiness is a modern emotion. No one – no society, no language – had a concept of it before the 16th century, when the idea of happiness first appeared in England, and this means that it was inconceivable for people who lived before the 16th century and to those who lived outside of England even for some time after it. If it was inconceivable, it could hardly been experienced, and certainly could not be consciously desired and pursued. As to whether it could be felt, desired, and pursued unconsciously we cannot know, because for obvious reasons, we cannot have any evidence regarding this possibility.