Pursuit of Happiness

In this module, we will explore how the "American Dream" has influenced its citizens values. This is the first of a three part series on U.S. Cultural Values and Ideals 101. The first value we will look at is the"pursuit of happiness" as discussed in the Declaration of Independence


What is the Pursuit of Happiness?

The "Pursuit of Happiness" Defined

Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence — which identifies the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right, along with life and liberty — and the French Revolution both reflected an increasingly popular idea: that happiness is necessary for the health of the individual and society. 

Americans feel that being happy is essential for living a long, healthy and successful life. We take the pursuit of happiness very seriously. We long for it, talk about it, sing about it, and make movies about it.

Today, happiness is ever-present in our cultural conversation and often at the forefront of our minds.

Advice on how to be happy is everywhere. A Google search for “happiness” yields nearly 420,000,000 million results.

See the music video below as an example of this pursuit:

What does happiness entail for Americans? See the video below for more info.



What defining characteristic would your culture define as essential? Discuss your thoughts with your instructor and/or group.

Disneyland Culture

 Some would argue that the U.S. is a "Disneyland  Culture". Disneyland itself has been referred to as an "American Utopia". 

Disney [Land of Wonder] from Vic Rincon on Vimeo.

Have you ever been to Disneyland or Disney World?  Share your experience with your instructor and/or group.

Pressure to be Positive

The pursuit of happiness produces a very real pressure to be optimistic or positive:

Americans have a lust for life, zeal and overall positivity that is unmatched. They strive to live life to the fullest. They are "go-getters". They have no shame in getting what they want and enjoying the fruits of capitalism. However, one could argue they view the world through rose-colored glasses, to the point of it being detrimental."

Happiness has become a core question of our lives. Some psychologists argue that this preoccupation with happiness may actually be making us less happy. Critics have also pointed out that the obsession with happiness may lead some to discount both the presence and the value of the challenging and painful events that are inevitable in our lives — not to mention making us feel inadequate when we fall short of an ideal happiness. 

We value not only happiness, but also the appearance of happiness and never want to be labeled as the "Debbie Downer" of the group.

Debbie Downer, is a slang phrase which refers to someone who frequently adds bad news and negative feelings to a gathering, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around them. 

Watch this video clip that illustrates this point.

Have you felt pressure to be happy living in the United States? Share your experience with your instructor and/or group.

"The Smiling American"

The smiling American was becoming a stereotype two centuries ago, as a new nation sought to justify its existence by projecting superior claims to happiness. 

What is your impression of Americans? Do they smile more or less than your culture does? Discuss your thoughts with your instructor and/or group.

Watch the video  and consider how other countries perceive Americans. Do you agree or disagree?

The American smile isn’t as fake as it seems. Many Americans are genuinely happy. Americans are positive people who usually give strangers the benefit of the doubt. There are plenty of cynical Americans, but when it comes to one-on-one interactions, Americans often assume that the other person is a good guy. That makes them sincerely smile. 

How Other Cultures Define Happiness

We have discussed how American's define happiness. Take time to consider how your culture defines happiness. How does this compare with the American definition?  Share your thoughts with your instructor and/or group.



Great articles for further reflection: 



Optional Homework

Optional Homework: Watch the movie, "The Pursuit of Happyness"

The film talks about how a homeless man success from the hardship and finally became a famous investment expert through his struggle step by step. The narrative of the main character Chris’s story refers to the key aspect of American Dream which is the equity opportunity of everyone in the society. It has showed the thought that happiness will come to everyone as long as we do not give up and make unremitting endeavor to our dreams.  

Be prepared to share your thoughts about the movie with your instructor and/or group.