Monday, June 8, 2009

Stumbling Upon Adam Smith

In his best-selling book, Stumbling Upon Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert argues that we know little about how to make ourselves happy.  We suffer the delusion that the pursuit of wealth will make us happy, but why should such an intelligent species be so naive?  Gilbert argues that this type of delusion tends to persist in cultures because that type of delusion is helps fortify the resilence of that society and its propensity to conquer others.  Wealth may not make us happy, but it overwhelms those who do not chase after wealth, until all that is left are those who suffer the delusion.

In my recent readings of Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I found that Smith "stumbled" upon this same idea long ago.  In describing man's pursuit of wealth, he states, "They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death."

But shortly after Smith asserts, "And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner.  It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of manking."