By Daniel Lee ’26 (DCI Fellow)
Happiness is a timeless virtue that colors the human condition. It is powerful, bringing light into the darkness and hope to the meek. Our fondest memories are often accompanied by this emotion, which comes back alive in reminiscence and nostalgia. And perhaps it is the presence of happiness itself—whether large or small—that allows us to march on past the burdens of a broken world.
There are, arguably, two distinct forms of happiness: private and public. Private happiness is found within the comfort of one’s private life, without interaction with other individuals. For example, one might achieve private happiness through the independent indulgence of food, entertainment, or physical activity. The duration of happiness created out of these activities tends to be short and temporary, leaving individuals unsatisfied in the aftermath.
Public happiness, on the other hand, is found exclusively by interacting with other individuals. The etymology of “happiness” is critical in understanding this phenomenon. The word originates from happ (Old Norse for chance or luck) and -ness (the state of being). Together, it signifies the state of being encompassed by chance and luck. So how does this apply to the creation of public happiness, and how does one go about bringing it to life?
The answer to that question can be found in the art of public discourse and deliberation. When individuals gather to hold a genuine conversation, void of preconceived scripts or narratives, the potential and possibility of the conversation are limitless, led by the force of spontaneity and chance. The contribution of one individual’s ideas will prompt others to react and contribute their own thoughts by chance, leading to the creation of something new. More often than not, this creation of something new is the birth of public happiness, brought forth into existence out of meaningful and exciting interactions between people.
This pursuit of public happiness is what I believe to be at the core of the DCI’s mission. In a world plagued by the impasse of ideological polarization and serious mental health crises, we need to work actively to bring back the virtue of public happiness into our communities. Whether the DCI deliberation model is implemented in local coffee shops or at large academic conferences, each step is crucial in ensuring a path forward. Without this important work, I am afraid that future generations of humanity may forgo ever experiencing public happiness altogether.
Although the present circumstances may seem dim, hope dances with my every heartbeat because of the meaningful interactions I have experienced through DCI this semester. Working with the DCI Fellows, D Team participants, and Dr. Bullock has helped restore my faith in our ability to move past the self-centered narrative and rather pursue great conversations created out of a bridge of respect and humility. And yes, much work is still left to be done. However, insofar as the possibility exists, the pursuit of public happiness is worth the struggle toward a better and healthier democracy.