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Happiness: The Elusive Goal

Humans often spend their entire lives with a common goal: to get as much

money as possible in the quest to find happiness. Throughout two works, Alfie Kohn’s

essay, titled How Not to Get Into College: The preoccupation with preparation, and TV

show The Simpsons: "Rosebud," it is clearly demonstrated that money is not the end all

be all. Everyone has their own definition of happiness and finds joy in different things.

People with various levels of income often try to achieve happiness through materialistic

items, whether that is clothing, cars, or the latest gadgets. However, they are often

unsuccessful, as materialistic items never truly make them happy. Instead of money,

both of the aforementioned works provide examples, which demonstrate that ambition is

a big factor when it comes to happiness.

Firstly, ambition is often defined as one’s desire to achieve something, typically

through determination and hard work. With ambition comes great sacrifices, some of

which can have an impact in the long run. This is demonstrated in an episode of The

Simpsons and in Kohn’s essay. Nowadays, having a well-paying job is considered as

one of the most prominent forms of success in society, and many are judged by their

class or occupation. The pathway to getting what society considers a good job typically

involves a lot of hard work in secondary school. Students try their hardest to get into the

best university or college in the country, and the notion that university is the only option

that gets drilled into their minds by their teachers and parents. Students are so focused

on becoming successful that they often forget to enjoy life and to live every moment to

the fullest. An example of this is when Kohn states, “Indeed, teenagers are making the

least of their high school years in large part because of their desperate attempts to get
into college” (Kohn, 4). Rather than socializing, teens would much rather sit at home

and spend all of their time studying. This often leads them to be isolated, and their

socialization skills to deteriorate. Moreover, ambition is exemplified in The Simpsons

episode, “Rosebud,” where Mr. Burns has a bad dream, and he sees his childhood

stuffed bear, Mr. Bobo. Although Mr. Burns is a billionaire and can buy virtually any

material item, the only thing that can bring him joy is his stuffed bear. Mr. Burns

proceeds to do everything in his power to find that bear, including running a segment on

the local news, dedicated to finding Mr. Bobo, which demonstrates how ambitious he is

as he goes to great lengths to try to find his bear. This is shown when Kent Brockman

says, “The Burns bear, perhaps the most valuable widdle bear in the world, could be

anywhere. It could be in your house” (Swartzwelder). Furthermore, based on research

conducted by Drake Baer from Fast Company, a leading progressive media company,

people who were very ambitious felt happy in the short term and unhappy in the long

run. Baer mentions this in his article when he says, “But ambition did not predict for

well-being in the same way: It was only weakly connected with well-being and in fact

negatively associated with longevity” (Baer, 6). This relates directly back to the essay

written by Alfie Kohn, as students are very ambitious when they are trying to get

accepted into a university. However, as soon as they enter the workforce, they are often

unhappy—stuck with a 9-to-5 job they despise. Overall, ambition plays a significant role

in one’s happiness, and its effect can be both long-term and short-term.

Secondly, in both works, it is evident that achieving happiness is different for

everyone. Some find happiness in intrinsic goals such as physical health or personal

growth, while others find happiness in extrinsic goals like buying a new phone or
clothes. In Kohn’s essay, he shows how students often find happiness in extrinsic goals

as a majority strive to get into a well-known, post-secondary institution. For instance,

Kohn states, “You’re telling us not to just get in a race for the traditional rewards . . . But

what else is there?” (Kohn, 11). The quote depicts the mindset of students, as they feel

that the only goal they can strive for in high school is to study hard and get accepted

into a respected university. This is known as extrinsic happiness since the students are

motivated by external factors in hopes of earning a reward, for example, an acceptance

letter. Similarly, the “Rosebud” episode of The Simpsons also focuses on how extrinsic

factors can make people happy. In this episode, Homer gets hold of Mr. Burns’s lost

bear, and instead of giving it back, he decides to tell Mr. Burns that he will give the bear

back for a “reward.” This is shown when Mr. Burns asks Homer what he wants, and he

says, “A million dollars and three Hawaiian Islands. Good ones, not the leper one”

(Swartzwelder). Here, Homer shows how extrinsic happiness brings him joy, as he

found happiness in being rich and owning islands. Furthermore, an article published on

Business Insider by Drake conducted a survey on 147 recent college graduates on their

level of happiness based on their goals. In the article, Baer says, “The folks who

realized their intrinsic goals had high levels of happiness, but the people who attained

their extrinsic goals didn’t have an improvement in their subjective well-being” (Baer, 5).

Based on the survey, they came to the conclusion that those who have intrinsic goals

are much happier than those who have extrinsic goals, which is also reflected in the

above-mentioned works.

Lastly, materialism is often defined as one who is obsessed with material

possessions, and it plays a big role in one’s happiness. Both Kohn’s essay and the
episode of The Simpsons depict the effects of materialism in several different ways. In

Kohn’s essay, he shows how students only join clubs and study hard so that they are

able to improve their university applications. This is depicted when he says, "If an

activity most likely will not lead to a tangible reward … you’re better off without it" (Kohn,

2). In this quote, he alludes to how students would not join clubs or compete in

academic contests if there was not any reward or benefit to it. Moreover, in the episode

of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns is very materialistic toward his lost teddy bear, and this is

shown when he says, "Oh, God, how I want my bear" (Swartzwelder). This shows how

Mr. Burns found happiness in materialistic items, and in this case, it was his teddy bear

that he had lost when he was a child. Furthermore, according to an article published by

Dinsa Sachan from Fast Company, "The happiest people in the study seemed to be

ones who spent more on things or services that were in sync with their personality type"

(Sachan, 6). The study was conducted on 600 individuals and found that materialistic

items made them happy as long as the items fit their personality. For example,

someone who was outgoing would spend money at a bar, while someone who was

more introverted would rather spend money on books.

To conclude, Alfie Kohn’s essay, titled How Not to Get Into College: The

preoccupation with preparation and the TV show, The Simpsons: "Rosebud," both

clearly demonstrate the different ways in which happiness can be achieved. Everyone

has their own definition of happiness and finds joy in different things. In both works, the

authors express this through ambition taken towards achieving happiness, how

intrinsic/extrinsic happiness can vary for everyone, and how materialism can affect

one’s happiness.
Works Cited

Baer, Drake. “Are Ambitious People Happier?” Fast Company, Fast Company, 22 Apr.

2013, https://www.fastcompany.com/3008604/are-ambitious-people-happier.
Baer, Drake. “Why Chasing 'Extrinsic Goals' Can Wreck Your Happiness.” Business

Insider, Business Insider, 22 July 2014, https://www.businessinsider.com/extrinsic-

goals-are-an-obstacle-to-happiness-2014-7.

Kohn, Alfie. “How Not to Get Into College: The Preoccupation with Preparation.” Alfie Kohn,

9 Mar. 2018, https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/get-college/.

Sachan, Dinsa. “Scientific Proof That Buying Things Can Actually Lead To Happiness

(Sometimes).” Fast Company, Fast Company, 6 July 2016,

https://www.fastcompany.com/3061516/scientific-proof-that-buying-things-can-actually-

buy-happiness-sometimes.

Swartzwelder, John, director. The Simpsons. Rosebud, 21 Oct. 1993.