Happiness should not be pursued

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I can't say there are many times when I disagree with the founders of our country but I do take exception with the concept of "pursuing happiness". In fact, I think this particular phrase from the Declaration of Independence has been twisted and abused and used as a justification/excuse for actions that are mis-aligned with our goals as a society.

My two points of contention are as follows:

  • We are endowed with the right to pursue happiness. We are not endowed with the right to be happy. Those are two very different things and I believe we have gotten them confused. Unfortunately, entitlement sets in and people begin behaving as if they have the right to be happy regardless of the impact on others and even regardless of their own actions. I don't believe the founders ever considered this as an outcome given the constant struggle they endured in their time to simply live. At some point we placed our own individual happiness above everything else...and that includes hard work and focus on the greater good. We lost sight of how our nation was formed and the types of sacrifices that were made to ensure it survived. I am quite certain that how the founders defined happiness would most likely be quite different than how we define it now. Happiness now seems to be centered on material possessions and status and both are fleeting.

  • Happiness cannot be pursued. Happiness is a result, not a goal. Happiness ensues from the pursuit of something meaningful. Even more directly, happiness is a choice. Nothing material will ever make you happy. Think about it for minute. If you think that a house, car, job, piece of clothing, money, status, relationship, etc., etc., etc. will make you happy you are not being honest with yourself. Attaining/achieving any of those will give you a temporary jolt of happiness that will quickly fade away. Sadly, what oftentimes follows is a sense of emptiness since you realized the hole you were trying to fill with all of that struggle is still quite empty.

In order to avoid this ruinous cycle of despair, you might consider:

  • Define your version of happiness. Take some time and actually write down under what conditions you would be happy. Most likely this will take a few revisions because we will all default by listing external things we need/want. You will need to write it out and put it away for a few days. When you return to it, begin asking yourself more questions about the things you listed and what they represent to you (that is the key). Once you understand that, you will be one step closer to making meaningful change.

  • Realize "the journey is better than the inn" (thanks Cervantes). Be happy now. Life is far to short to pursue your happiness and think you need to suffer now in order to be happy later. Commit the phrase "Memento Mori" to memory (click on the link to learn more). Tomorrow is not guaranteed so choose happiness today. Find a reason to be happy and spread happiness to others. We are certainly endowed with the right to pursue making others happy and that is a right we should all exercise more fervently.

Happiness is not a right but it is right in front of you!

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