A Happiness Check List

03/26/2007 01:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recently I posted on the new trend in corporate America toward well-being, which may signal a shift in values. Well-being has been a hard sell in alternative medicine, because rather than relying on proven means to stay healthy, people wait for a serious crisis and then rush to the doctor for drugs or surgery. Similarly, any kind of addictive behavior poses an obvious threat to well-being, but it's in the nature of addictions to thwart reason. Doing what's bad for you doesn't feel good, but the pleasure principle is helpless when obsession and fear are at work. America is addicted to rampant consumerism, and our twinges of guilt don't serve to stop our obsessions. This doesn't mean, however, that pessimism rules the day. We are changing what it means to be happy all the time, and it's worthwhile to examine the difference between American well-being in 1967 and 2007.

Assuming that societies are like individuals and are motivated to pursue happiness, here are things that met with general approval forty years ago, in 1967:

--Letting rivers and lakes become polluted without controls.
--Allowing more or less unlimited air pollution.
--Letting cigarette companies sell a known carcinogen without culpability
--Eliminating animal species at will
--Legislating a universal draft
--Expending tens of thousands of lives in a civil war in Vietnam
--Killing millions of Vietnamese without culpability
--Supporting repressive Middle East regimes in return for cheap oil
--Stockpiling atomic weapons in numbers that could destroy human life several times over
--Counting Communists of any stripe as deadly enemies
--Providing unlimited funds to military expenditure
--Funding a vast secret intelligence agency
--Passing civil rights laws while at the same time secretly monitoring and threatening the most prominent civil rights leaders
--Accepting a 300% rise in crime and a twenty-fold rise in drug use
--Condoning pervasive inequalities between men and women in the workplace
--Ignoring the feminist movement or consigning it to the extremist fringe
--Turning our backs on post-colonial strife in Africa
--Tolerating apartheid in South Africa
--Meddling secretly in foreign governments, including targeted assassinations and CIA covert insurgencies
--Responding feebly to the threat of global overpopulation
--Consuming fossil fuels without check or pollution controls
--Accepting the medicine is a branch of private enterprise, with no concern for universal health care
--Regarding homosexuality as a disease, punishing homosexuals as criminals
--Allowing rain forests to be destroyed at will
--Paying mere lip service to the end of poverty and hunger in the world

The list could go on indefinitely, but it's compelling to see how far we have awakened since 1967, as well as sobering to realize how many things remain the same. Overall, the trend is toward a new system of values that is life-enhancing, however. There's reason to be optimistic that positive change will always be more powerful than negative change. One could itemize such advances as the decline in deaths attributed to war, the decreasing number of serious civil conflicts, the end of the Cold War, the rise of economic conditions in many counties, and so on. When totaled up, the progress made over the last forty years is undeniable, despite the current fashion for doomsday gloom.