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For crying out loud, we live in a country where "the pursuit of happiness" is written into the Declaration of Independence. We live in the land of Happy Meals. Happy Meals. You know, there are people living, barely, on this planet for whom a Happy Meal is when they find an extra dung beetle in their bowl of roots and twigs. I mean, c'mon, in a lot of those countries, fast food is a gazelle. So why, in this land of freedom and plenty, are we loaded to the gills with Zoloft? Why do more people miss work yearly due to depression than to any other physical malady? Why are we such alcoholic, sex-and-drug addicted, bingeing-and-purging, compulsively gambling, ulcer-ridden basket cases?

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but most Americans are sadder than Bob Vila's neighbor trying to sleep in.

I believe that as we grow up, we are actually taught to be unhappy. We are shown what we don't have, we learn that society places value on accumulating material possessions, and we find out that success means winning an award. Happiness and satisfaction go hand in hand and we can never be satisfied because goals have been set for us that are higher than the entire front row at Reggae Sunsplash '98.

And even if you've made your peace with the material world, even if your baseball team is half a game out of first place and your family is healthy, even if you've learned to accept your lot in life and tend to your little garden, how can anybody with a shred of compassion in their soul sit through five minutes' worth of network nightly news without feeling like Sylvia Plath during a screening of Shoah while listening to Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush"?

It's a brutal world. More than ever, tragedy, violence, mayhem, and injustice seem to be the order of the day. It's almost impossible to enjoy with a clear conscience whatever little piece of tranquility you've carved out for yourself while abject misery and suffering is all over the world like phony on Kathie Lee Gifford.

You know, we have the unrealistic expectation that unless every nanosecond of our life is spend in multiorgasmic joy, we're being ripped off worse than the Von Trapp family in a New York City taxi from JFK to Manhattan.

The quest for happiness is a metaphysical game of three-card monte and we are both sucker and shill. We know we'll never find the red card, but a little voice inside makes us keep throwing down twenties. Listen up, guys and gals, you may never be any happier than you are right now. You may be richer or better-sexed or more powerful but you may never be any happier.

Our entire existence is spent yearning for what we don't have, and we're convinced that whatever it is we're missing is the one thing keeping us from perfect bliss, transcendence, nirvana, satori . . . whatever term your particular ideological affiliation uses for the state in which life truly resembles a lite beer commercial.

What makes people happy anyway? I've come to the conclusion that most people are only really happy not when something good happens to them, but when something bad doesn't happen to them. Remember how good you felt when your neighbor's house got struck by lightning because he got the new satellite dish?

We could go round and round on this all night, but that would fly in the face of what I've been trying to say all along. Happiness doesn't always require resolution.

But, rather, an in-the-moment, carefree acceptance of the fact that the worst day of being alive is much better than the best day being dead. And personally, I've never been happier than this precise moment because I just found out that an extensive two-week investigation by the federal government revealed no violations of child labor laws in the production of my new line of Dennis Miller active wear. You are gonna love my new sports bra.

Hey, happiness is not settling for less, but just not being miserable with what is. I have always lived by the creed "It's not the approval or accolades or possessions that make you smile, but simply making the left turn even though were were the third car in the intersection."

I myself have learned to love the simple things.

Nothing makes me happier than coming upstairs and finding my wife sound asleep in bed with our two children. Covering them with Grandma's quilt, going downstairs to make sure all the doors are locked, stepping out onto my wood deck to a clear summer night with every star blazing brilliantly through a balmy breeze while I contemplatively run through my head a list of anyone who was ever a cast member of Saturday Night Live and try to figure out how their career is going compared to mine.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong


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