The Pursuit of Happiness

declaration of independenceAmericans are coming off of a weekend to celebrate. We celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s birth and we got an added bonus by celebrating the women’s soccer team winning the World Cup. As a friend of mine said on his newsfeed, “Finally, something that we can all agree on.” It was good to see everyone put away their differences for a while and celebrate with pride in something that pretty much everyone could get behind.

In thinking about July 4th, I thought about freedom and just what it means. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads, “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.” As many times as I’ve read the document before, that phrase, “the pursuit of happiness” jumped out at me.

There’s been a “rags to riches” movie with the same name starring Will Smith. We probably throw that phrase around all the time. Freedom, to most of us, means that anything that stands in the way of those three things (among many others) is an encroachment on our freedom. Should anyone keep us from enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they are keeping us from being free, right? We’re free to do what we want to do, however we want to do it, whenever we want to do it. That’s the pursuit of happiness, right?

The more that I thought about it, the more I began to mutter things under my breath about our founding fathers. The pursuit of happiness? Really? Happiness is such a suspicious word to me. When you look in the dictionary, one of the definitions given is, “good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” I’m glad that the dictionary gives that definition, but I hardly believe that those last two words really describe happiness.

To me, happiness is different than contentment or joy. Happiness is based completely on our circumstances. If we’re happy and we know it, we’ll clap our hands, right? Happiness seems so experiential, so temporal, so fleeting. Happiness can be taken away with a moment.

Contentment and joy, on the other hand, are deeper, they’re based more on the long-term rather than the immediate. Contentment comes when we find satisfaction in what we have, who we are, where we are. Contentment is a place where we go or where we get to, a place that it’s hard for people to pull us from.

I wonder what we’re doing in our lives, whether we’re pursuing happiness or contentment. Are you happy or are you content?

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