“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.”–Preamble to the Declaration of Independence (United States)
Whilst flipping through an old college American History textbook the other day, I stopped at the pages that illustrate a copy of the “Declaration of Independence”. The preamble is the most often quoted portion of the document. Although the statement about life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is noble and almost holy, I stumble at the word “pursuit”. Thomas Jefferson and the Committee of Five may have had a hiccup regarding happiness. I give those folks a pass because they were not privy to modern philosophical views regarding the concept of happiness. I’m just glad that they included happiness in their message.
Indeed, millions of people are engaged in the pursuit of happiness. They seem not to know what it is they’re looking for. They want to own prestigious status symbols, consume every latest gadget, make tons of money, have a desireable partner, be powerful and successful, and make the world their oyster. Perhaps they wish to recapture or preserve their youth and otherwise impress other people.
The thing is that these attributes do not create nor necessarily lead the way to happiness. While in and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with most of what is listed in the above paragraph, such ambitions can distract us from ever attaining happiness. In fact, these desires often lead to frustration and unhappiness. Philosophers and theologians have said such things are best regarded as secondary rewards.
This isn’t the first article anyone has written that describes the quandry we find ourselves in whenever we buy a new gadget. After obtaining an article of clothing, a car, a house, etcetera, we begin thinking about getting more of these things. When we finally own whatever we thought we wanted, the thrill soon dissipates and we feel a sense of longing and emptiness again. We believed that the stuff would bring us happiness. All we got were substitutes and ineffective placeboes. Such things mask the lack of something more substantial–true happiness.
“Stop looking outside or at others for that which you seek of yourself.”–life and leadership coach, Rasheed Ogunlaru
When we contemplate the concept of the pursuit of happiness we come to the conclusion that we need to look within to complete our search. When we discover the root of fulfillment and joy lives within our mind and heart, there will be an awakening of sorts. If the mind is discernably and mindfully kept open, our thinking will be less warped. There are few effective words to describe this realization. It is best to experience it first-hand. Once this occurs, we come to the realization that we didn’t need to chase after happiness–it was with us all along.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Ancient Roman dramatist, satirist, philosopher, and statesman, Lucius Annaeus Seneca . “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”