What makes us happy? Shopping until we drop? Or dropping out of the feeding frenzy taking place at "Big Box" stores, and focusing on the basics? These basics might include family, friends, and community, good conversations, healthy foods that nourish the body, a sense of purpose... a good night's sleep.
Sure, Black Friday is bound to have a beneficial effect on some parts of the U.S. economy, but my guess is that it won't be long lasting if the focus remains "out there," and not inside ourselves. Happiness, it seems, does not come in a box with a big red ribbon and a tag that reads: "Do not open until..."
What will happen when this year's holiday shopping frenzy is over? Will Americans experience a collective hangover; a Black Friday Depression that lingers until the After Christmas Sales drive us back into the stores again?
What makes us happy, however, is a serious question. It's not really about shopping. The question requires serious thought.
British Prime Minister David Cameron takes this question so seriously, in fact, that he has commissioned a national survey next Spring, to find out what makes citizens of "Merry Old England" happy. He wants to use that information, he says, to help shape government policies.
Here in the USA, former U.S. President George Bush thought happiness was based on consumption. He urged Americans to fix the economy by going out shopping.
Has our consumer economy brought Americans lasting happiness? No. According to the Happy Planet Index, the angry, agitated citizens of the Divided States of America - including citizens of Sarah Palin's Alaska - rank at the bottom of a worldwide survey of happiness along with Africa.
By contrast, could basic values based on compassion and caring, such as volunteering to help others, shopping locally, slow dining with family or friends, and taking responsibility for our own good health bring us greater happiness? Could a resurgence of these values bring greater stability to our country?
In England, David Cameron's Happiness Survey will have the daunting task of trying to reconcile foreign policy issues with the economic unrest of UK citizens. As he seeks to make citizens at home happier, could his efforts have any effect on lessening the misery and suffering that U.S. and British foreign policy has caused in Iraq and Afghanistan? In other words, could the alignment of domestic policy with Happiness, also shift foreign policy?
In U.S., the question itself is almost unthinkable.
However, if President Barack Obama were to move beyond hope to happiness as an election 2012 campaign message, then I would suggest that he first arrange a meeting with His Majesty, King Khesar of Bhutan.
Since the late 1970's, the Bhutan government has been engaged in measuring the happiness of its citizens. At his Coronation Address in 2008, the wise young king reminded them:
"You are the true jewel of this nation. As citizens of a spiritual land you treasure the qualities of a good human being - honesty, kindness, charity, integrity, unity, respect for our culture and traditions, love for our country and for God. Throughout our history our parents have upheld these values and placed the common good above the self."
Today's Bhutan, he reminded them, "is vastly different - unrecognizable even - when compared to the Bhutan in the time of our first King. Yet, the character of our people and the nature of our fundamental values have remained unchanged. Henceforth, as even more dramatic changes transform the world and our nation, as long as we continue to pursue the simple and timeless goal of being good human beings, and as long as we strive to build a nation that stands for everything that is good, we can ensure that our future generations for hundreds of years will live in happiness and peace."
Can our great nation use compassion for ourselves and each other as a kind of gravity to pull us back together again? Will this unity restore our happiness? Happiness has no price tag, yet it's what our country needs most, right now.
Do you agree with me?
Alexia Parks is founder and director of Parkinomics, for the New Economy. She is also author of eight books, including Parkinomics, an Amazon business and motivational bestseller. It offers "8 great ways to thrive in the New Economy", for the individual who wants to lead a life of "meaning, prosperity, and purpose." Parkinomics includes ideas and links to resources.