“In America I saw the freest and most enlightened men placed in the happiest circumstances that the world affords, it seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought them serious and almost sad, even in their pleasures.  The chief reason for this contrast is that [they are] forever brooding over advantages they do not possess.  It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead to it.  A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them.  He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications…

Death at length overtakes him, but it is before he is weary of his bootless chase of that complete felicity which forever escapes him.  At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance.  The spectacle itself, however, is as old as the world; the novelty is to see a whole people furnish an exemplification of it.  Their taste for physical gratifications must be regarded as the original source of that secret disquietude which the actions of the Americans betray and of that inconstancy of which they daily afford fresh examples.  He who has set his heart exclusively upon the pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a hurry, for he has but a limited time at his disposal to reach, to grasp, and to enjoy it.  The recollection of the shortness of life is a constant spur to him.  Besides the good things that he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others that death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon.  This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret and keeps him mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode…Men will then be seen continually to change their track for fear of missing the shortest cut to happiness.” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 2.2.13)

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