Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Political theorist tells DU audience happiness is not for sale

Political theorist Benjamin Barber told a crowd of nearly 600 on Oct. 23 that the U.S. Declaration of Independence provides the right to pursue happiness, but Americans have forgotten how to pursue it.

The author of 17 books and professor of civil society at the University of Maryland spoke at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts as part of the University of Denver’s sixth year of the Bridges to the Future lecture series. The series this academic year focuses on “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

Barber said American consumers are pursuing materialism, thinking they might achieve happiness. Instead, he said, their choices have unintended consequences that negatively effect them and the world.

“The way you spend your dollar will have an impact on the future you never dreamed of,” he said.

Barber gave the example that he likes to drive big cars, but his purchase can affect everything from the environment to the war in Iraq. The only way to eventually have happiness, he says, is to take back citizenship by limiting the endless cycle of consumption. He blames the marketing world for creating needs we don’t really have, like the iPhone.

“We don’t know what it is, let alone need it, until marketers persuade us that it’s something we have to have,” he said.

Nick Stokes, a student at DU’s Graduate School of International Studies, studied abroad for the past six years. He agrees that Americans are materialistic. The people he encountered in developing countries didn’t even know what an iPhone was, much less need it.

Stokes said he wonders if Americans confuse “the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of property.”

The Bridges to the Future series will continue Jan. 15, 2008, with Sarah Susanka, who authored The Not So Big Life(Random House, 2007) and is an architect.

The events are free and open to the public, but reservations are required and can be made at

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