A perennial piece of journalism is how the current generation is making out in its quest for happiness, the pursuit of which the Constitution guarantees but not the capture thereof. The latest I have read indicates that the answer is, not so well. “Baby Boomers are four times likelier to say they are not satisfied with their lives than are the people of their parents’ generation …. Experts estimate that psychological depression is 10 times what it was before World War II.”

Secular cults promising happiness now, rather than in the hereafter as promised by religious denominations, have proliferated and have established Heaven Havens for members to dash in and dash out and taste a bit of paradise between dashes for a price far exceeding the average plate-passing offering.   Wordsmiths whose glibness suggest they are all sail and no ballast hammer out trainloads of books promising by title and blurbs elusive contentment so mercurial that the ordinary person needs their guide to capture it; and false prophets abound preying on the disillusion created by other false prophets with the promise of “ follow us and we’ll lead you out of the desert of your discontent to the milk-and-honey land of happiness”.

And Madison Avenue’s Merchants’ TV ads of quick relief, for cheap, of every conceivable ache and plague have reached such a volume of repetition and loudness that one screams silently for relief from the reliefs, and headshakes at the meretriciousness of the TV catalog

Americans have become so materialistic, so money-oriented, that they have come to believe and to teach that money will buy anything, even happiness.   It is inconceivable to many of them that there are desires and wishes that cannot be satisfied by writing a check. They don’t learn that some things cannot be bought until they have reached that level of affluence where they can write a check for any item or service they fancy, a level of affluence many more have achieved since World War II and a lesson all at that level have learned or suspect.

Happiness is the Holy Grail after which all quest but few discover because they seek it in castles instead of humble abodes. Happiness abides in byways and not on highways.

Pleasure is the gain preceding the debt; happiness is the credit succeeding the pain.

The notion that happiness is where one is not fuels millions to travel with high expectations on pathways leading to dead ends and to piles of hopes’ ashes, some travelers admitting their error and seeking another way, and others despairing and falling into bitterness and accusations.

Health is the sine qua non of happiness; and there is no health without discipline and there is no discipline without the pain of refrain or denial.   Yet denial is an alien element in modern American consumer culture, resulting in diseases of mind and body and in the frightening cost of medical services.

The whole thrust of Western industrialization and technology is the production and merchandising of items to eliminate pain and enhanced pleasure, to entice to profligacy and to remedy the consequences with no sweat. Man evolved to walk: Yet today few walk; instead they drive motor vehicles, motorized living rooms; they fly in hotel comfort; sail in luxury, or ride the rails in style. When their arterial system atrophies from lack of use, they have by-passes or transplants at a cost 10 times more than my grandfather earned and lived on his entire life.

Wealth seduces denial and subverts discipline; it courts indulgence and holds hands with prodigality. It engenders arrogance and fastidiousness and make callous empathy and sympathy.

In the quest for happiness one must be himself, for a false facade is a weight that will burden his days and end them sooner than later. One must be as a child to enter the Kingdom.

One must cut the homeport moorings of his philosophical ship, sail into the Sea of Doubt, ride the storms of controversy, visit the numerous ports of ideas and thoughts and reach his own haven of beliefs. An inherited faith is a ship without ballast or sail, leading to an inordinate expenditure of effort proselytizing and plate-passing.

The preceding concept was stated by Wolfgang Goethe, 1749 – 1832, Germany’s Shakespeare, thusly: “What you have inherited from your fathers, earn over again for yourselves, or it will not be yours.”

One must trust people: it is better to trust and be betrayed than not to trust anyone and to suspect everyone; for only then can one know the joy of having his trust honored by fidelity.

Like the Prodigal Son, America has spent its patrimony riotously: it has denuded the land, polluted the waters and fouled the air; profited beyond dreams; built awesomely; and acquired and consumed like the Sybarites. Now that the prodigal party is ending and the bills are coming due, America must do what the Son did: repent and sin no more. She must save rather then spend; conserve rather than exploit; repair her ravages of her Home; nourish and nurture her children; try to understand her social outcasts; bridge by acts the divorcement of her faith and her politics; extend an open hand to other nations; and learn again the virtue of denial and discipline.

God’s Son’s admonishment that it is as difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle is not owing to His prejudice against the rich; but owing to the moral and psychological imperative that in the process of acquisition and expenditure of wealth, one can lose the dearest characteristics of his humanity: his soul, a loss which precludes earthly happiness and heavenly reward. Where is the profit in gaining the world and losing one’s humanity as the price?

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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