Various polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans are glum. They dislike the national decline in everybody else's morality, meddling government, doublespeak politicians, arrogant media, highly paid athletes, sports strikes, and many other annoyances.
The question is why are people so unhappy when times are relatively good, the economy seems perky, and it seems unlikely that Judge Ito will totally ban TV coverage.
To get answers, I arranged for an exclusive interview with Dr. I.M. Kookie, the internationally renowned expert on lots of stuff.
Dr. Kookie has been studying the droopy American spirit at the think tank he founded: The Institute to Determine What's Up.
Here are some of his findings:
"People are unhappy for one very simple reason. They are not unhappy enough."
But that doesn't make sense. How can they be unhappy because they are not unhappy when it is clear that they are, indeed, unhappy?
"That is a very good question. Actually, it is a stupid question, but I will try to be polite. So I will answer it anyway. OK, when you are real thirsty, what makes you feel better?"
Having something to drink.
"Right. And when you are real hungry, what makes you feel good?"
Obviously, having something to eat.
"Very good. Now do you understand?"
I'm afraid not.
"Misery. We need more misery. Until we get more misery, people will be miserable. Now you got it?"
We need more misery to be happy?
"Exactly. We got it too good. When was the last time you had to call your brother-in-law to bring over his jumper cables because the cold weather killed your car battery?"
It has been so long, I don't remember.
"See? It used to be that when we got a cold snap, every brother-in-law was out with his jumper cables. But now they make better cars and batteries that almost always start. So how can you feel good when your engine starts if you weren't miserable because it didn't start in the first place?"
So we need dead batteries to be happy?
"More than that. In the Great Depression, what made people miserable?"
That's easy. Being out of work, not having food or a roof over their heads.
"Right. So what made them happy?"
A job, food on the table, and a warm place to sleep.
"You got it. Any kind of job made a person happy. The job didn't have to fulfill them or be on the fast track, as long as it provided a paycheck. Food was pretty good haute cuisine if it filled the belly. And nobody complained about not having as nice a house as their parents had, because most parents were lucky to have clean linoleum and a toilet that flushed."
So you are saying that in order to appreciate what you have, you have to have been deprived.
"It helps. But now we got every kind of machine we need to keep us cool when it's hot, warm when it's cold, entertained with movies or sports or games or music when we're bored. To make our coffee and cook our food real fast. To cut our grass, throw our snow, wash our dishes, clean our clothes, exercise our legs, check our blood pressure, count our calories, and do our arithmetic. Fifty years ago, the world's richest people didn't have the luxuries that the average guy -- even some low-income guys -- take for granted today."
But if we have it so good, why are the majority of Americans unhappy?
"Because they want more, and there ain't no more, but people think there is. That's why millions of them are running out and buying themselves or their kids computers with a CD-ROM. A few years ago, they would have thought that CD-ROM was a mantra: See-Dee Romm-Romm, See-Dee Romm-Romm, hey, hey, hey, goodbye. Now they think a CD-ROM will bring them happiness. But it won't.
"All that will happen is that it will keep popping out and goofy messages will come on the computer screen saying, 'Insert Disk,' 'Remove Disk,' 'Take Disk and Shove It.' Then they will tell a pollster that life is doo-doo."
So you seem to be saying that to be happy, you must know some misery first. Only then can you enjoy the simple pleasures.
"Well, I would not put it in such a sappy way, but that's part of it. See, what we really need is for the government to say that we are going to be hit by a giant meteor."
A giant meteor from outer space?
"Right. They should announce that it is going to crash into this planet in 30 days and kill everything except the cockroaches.
"And so in a few million years, the cockroaches will evolve into sharpies like us and will be unhappy with their CD-ROMs.
"Yes, we need an end-of-the-world meteor alert."