Nephew: I’m not sure I deserve to be happy.
Uncle: Do you deserve your pancreas? Your bladder? Your left lung?
Nephew: Well . . . yes!
Uncle: Of course you deserve them. No matter what you have done, or think you have done, you deserve those organs. You were born with them. Every part of your body is unconditionally yours, regardless of what good or bad you have done in the world. You don’t have to earn your eyes or your elbow; they’re yours. You were born with an innate propensity to be happy and you deserve that happiness, in the same way you deserve your kidneys and your kneecaps. No matter what you have done in the world, or think you have done, you deserve happiness. Besides, who would benefit if you were to remain unhappy?
Nephew: But we can lose an eye, a kidney, a kneecap.
Uncle: That doesn’t mean we have lost the right to have that eye, that kidney, that kneecap. In the same way, if we become unhappy it doesn’t mean we have lost the right to be happy.
Nephew: Did Adolf Hitler deserve happiness? Pol Pot? Idi Amin? Joseph Stalin?
Uncle: Yep. Happiness isn’t a reward for being nice; it’s a birthright. They were human, and deserved their fingers, their bladder, their nose . . . and their happiness. So do you. If you were to lose your happiness, you would deserve to be happy again.
Nephew: For all you know I may have done some bad things. Awful things.
Uncle: Nevertheless, you deserve to be happy.
Nephew: But shouldn’t bad people be made to feel unhappy? Don’t they deserve that punishment?
Uncle: We wouldn’t punish someone by removing their left leg. In the same way, we shouldn’t punish someone by reducing their happiness. They deserve their happiness as much as they deserve their leg. It’s a birthright.
Nephew: But we have to punish them somehow.
Uncle: There are other ways to punish. Let’s say two people commit a crime and are sentenced to jail. One goes to a standard jail and becomes unhappy. The other goes to a magical jail which helps her feel valued and connected, and happy. Which prisoner do you think is more likely to feel remorse, and upon leaving jail be less likely to commit another offence?
Nephew: . . .
Uncle: Exactly. As for the prisoner in the standard jail, made to feel unhappy, who will benefit because she has been made to feel unhappy? Will she benefit? Will anyone benefit? Hardly.
Nephew: The unhappy one might be deterred from committing another crime.
Uncle: Recidivism is high in ex-prisoners from standard jails.
Nephew: If a criminal is made to feel unhappy, the victim can feel justice has been done.
Uncle: Poor compensation. Many victims still resent the criminal long after the jail sentence has been completed. I suspect that a victim would feel far better if the perpetrator emerged from jail happier, well adjusted and rehabilitated. At least then the crime would have some meaning.
Nephew: I don’t agree.
Uncle: Whatever the case, core happiness isn’t a commodity that should be taken away, in the same way that a kidney should not be taken away. It’s a birthright. We all deserve happiness, including you. No exceptions.
Nephew: Are you saying that if someone commits a crime they should be punished by being helped to become happy?
Uncle: The idea of purposely taking away a person’s happiness to punish them is draconian. Sure, take away the prisoner’s pleasures, but let’s help them increase their core happiness. All of us will benefit.
Nephew: That would require a change of attitude in millions of people, and cost billions of dollars.
Uncle: If we stay focused on helping prisoners become happier and well-adjusted, I claim there would be less recidivism and fewer prisoners. Further, if we focused on helping everyone in society increase their core happiness, we might well create fewer offenders. The initial cost would be enormous, but the costs would decrease. We’d all benefit in the long run.
Nephew: What would Hitler have been like had he been happier?
Uncle: Who knows.
Nephew: So, no matter what I have done, I deserve to be happy?
Uncle: You do. You have the right to be happy. And if you’re not happy, you can aim to be happy, because you deserve it.