The Pursuit Of Happiness

The 4th of July is an American institution. It is as American as ice-cream, hot dogs, and the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The spirit that produced this day, and still throbs in it, found expression in the Declaration of Independence. This document is one of the noblest of our State papers.

Thomas Jefferson, the brain behind this document, probably borrowed his ideas from the English philosopher, John Locke. Locke specified, as the fundamental rights of man, “life, liberty, and property.” Jefferson considered this list inadequate. So, he made a change and substituted the word “happiness” for “property.” In this change, Jefferson meant to picture America as a place where human rights ranked above all others. So he affirmed that all men are endowed by their Creator with “certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I have often wondered about this last right. I do not doubt that a beneficent Creator intended us to be happy. Even so, I ask myself whether happiness is ever gained by deliberately pursuing it. Everyone has a right to pursue happiness, but one seldom gets it by going after it. Indeed, to go directly after it is one of surest ways not to obtain it.

Yet, we all crave it, and actively search for it. However, multitudes of us miss it. Why?

People miss happiness because they pursue it in the wrong way. As someone has put it: “Happiness is essentially and inevitably a by-product that comes invariably by indirection.” It cannot be pursued, it must ensue! Indeed, the finest and best things in life come that way. Set your heart on them, go after them, and they elude you. You can pursue honors, but not honor. You can pursue a reputation, but not influence.

So it is with happiness. Seek it for its own sake, and you will not find it. As Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote: “Make it the object of your pursuit, and it leads you on a wild-goose chase.” One of the paradoxes of human life is that the things people struggle for most, such as success, wealth, and position, are not those things that bring the deepest joy.

What then are some of the ways to “find” happiness?

Happiness is the result of inner stability, not of outer security. It is at this point that the illusion of the pursuit of happiness begins, and why so much of it terminates in the aspirin bottle.

Happiness is the indirect result of creative, useful living. Michelangelo said, “It is well with me only with a chisel in my hand.” We are made by our Creator to be creative.

Happiness is redemptive usefulness. Mature people seldom think of happiness. They do not ask, “What do I want?” but, “What is wanted of me?”

The way to find happiness is to lose yourself in service to others, to do something for somebody without any thought of reward.

These are some of the ways to find happiness. “If you know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:7).

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