by Izzy Kalman (January 2004)
Most of us believe we have fundamental rights to happiness, respect, fairness, and protection from misery. These beliefs are psychological traps. “Rights” are a legal concept created by Civilization; rights do not exist in Nature.
We are fortunate to be living in a time and place in which we have greater luxuries and possibilities than ever in history. However, we are not any happier than people were in previous generations. Why? Because of our beliefs in “rights” to happiness.
The Jewish books of law, the Mishnah (volume Ethics of the Fathers) says, “Who is the wealthy person? He who appreciates what he has.” The happiest people in the world are those who still live as hunter/gatherers in nature, never having become “civilized.” These people have no “rights”; everything they have is acquired through their own efforts. They take nothing for granted, and therefore appreciate everything they have, little as it may be.
As civilization progresses, abundance increases, so a just society can afford to declare that its members have “rights,” which distribute the abundance. This makes life fairer and helps people avoid misery. However, this has a paradoxical effect of decreasing general happiness.
The Myth of “The Right to Happiness”
When you have a “right” to something, it means that you don’t have to provide it for yourself – society owes it to you. Rather than appreciating whatever the right entitles you to, you come to take if for granted and get upset whenever you are missing whatever the “right” entitles you to. When is the last time you heard someone praising the country for giving them the right to a free education for their children? All you hear is that their kids’ schools aren’t good enough.
The biggest trap is the belief that we are entitled to happiness. It may be fed by misunderstanding of the US Constitution, which guarantees us “the right to the PURSUIT of happiness.” Many interpret this as “the right to happiness.” The truth is that the only one who can make you happy is you yourself. However, when you believe that happiness is your right, you do nothing to create it on your own. As you wait around for society to get you out of your misery, you become more and more upset that you are unfairly deprived of your right to happiness. This leads to a downward spiral of anger, disappointment, and misery.
Another common error is the belief that you have a right to be treated well by others. This belief gives them power over you. All people have to do to defeat you is to treat you badly. Then you get angry because you believe they have “no right to treat you that way.” However, you make no effort to solve your problem because you believe it is society’s job to protect you. Then your misery is compounded as you get angry at society for failing to prevent your misery.
Throw Away the Idea of “Rights”
There is no right to happiness! There is no right to be treated with respect by others! Just try to find where they are written and who backs them up. You won’t succeed.
So throw away the idea of “rights.” You will immediately become more empowered and happy. When people mistreat you, you won’t become terribly upset because you realize they are acting within their rights. (People don’t have a right to commit crimes against you. That is what the legal justice system is for. But people do have a right to try to make you miserable.) You will then be left with your true right: the Constitutional right to the PURSUIT of happiness. At least you’ll stand a chance of getting it. You will never get happiness if you believe you are entitled to it.