I read an interesting article a few weeks ago. (Time Magazine, July 8-15 issue, pg 38+) It was about what the Founding Fathers, specifically Jefferson, had in mind when he penned “…the pursuit of happiness” into the Declaration of Independence. I am sure those of you who paid attention in US History class in high school are quite aware of what the word happiness meant to them, but this discovery was eye-opening and discouraging to me.
Aristotle and the Greeks had a strong impact on these leaders who declared their independence. The Greeks believed people found meaning in their relationships with other human beings. In fact, the Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, was associated with good conduct and generous citizenship. Thus, those who first read Jefferson’s words “the pursuit of happiness” interpreted it to mean “the pursuit of the good for the whole” because to them the good of the whole was critical to the good of the individual. Another way to think of it is “the pursuit of individual excellence that shapes the life of a broader community”.
The idea that I am not the central focus of the “pursuit of happiness” sounds crazy. Happiness, in this culture, is about more possessions, feeling good, power, and living extravagant lifestyles. Yet that isn’t what Jefferson had in mind. His pursuit of happiness does not free me to do whatever I want because it gives me immediate pleasure. It does not excuse me to take the easy way because the right way is difficult. It isn’t just about me.
It’s about loving one another. It’s about doing good when good is hard. It’s giving grace to people who I don’t really like because I count on grace from others every day. It’s pitching into an activity that’s good for the community even if I don’t see how it’s going to help me. It’s putting aside temporary feeling to gain long-term positive results.
There is nothing wrong with personal happiness, and there is certainly personal responsibility involved in happiness. However, to what ends will I go to achieve it? Who must weep so I can laugh?
2 responses to “the Pursuit of Happiness”
The writings of the Founders I have read do not indicate that they supported ‘happiness’ as doing whatever would give them personal satisfaction.
I plan do some research to see where I read it, but up til the very end that phrase was “property.” It was commonly understood that to be happy meant the right to property. I will try to find quotes that clarify what they intended. They looked at many forms of governance and decided that Montesquieu’s descriptions of a democratic republic were the closest to what they could agree on. John Locke had a lot information/viewpoints that they considered. There is a chapter in the book 5000 year leap that addresses part of what they studied to come up with a new system that combined the best of all forms of government.
More when I can find the resources I read their words from.
Blessings, Brenda – YSIC
I believe these sites point out that the pursuit of happiness goes way beyond doing what I want to do. I think they clarify the article you read and give us cause to enlighten others to what that phrase really means. Hope you find that they give you encouragement to cling to the Founders sharing the views of the Americans of that day and that the US needs to reestablish. If we but understand that they never intended to hurt others but indeed the very nature of happiness was not to infringe on the rights of others.
It was not, however, about the government taking from some and giving to others. We have seen with our own eyes how that works out in the long run. Tyranny is the end result of controlling the success of any person in order to change the results for those who are not successful. We must all treat each other with respect and not infringe on the unalienable rights of others. That is the whole point of the Great American Experiment. Everyone has the right to pursue happiness, but not all will have equal results of he pursuit, simply because of the differences our creator created us with. But we are free to pursue your unalienable right to pursue success.
I will stop there!
In the joy of The Lord,