The Pursuit of Happiness

This week’s issue of Time magazine is devoted to the American ‘inalienable right’ to the Pursuit of Happiness. Three thoughts have kept on lingering in my mind after reading the lead article.

First, the American Founding Fathers based the new country that they were then forging on the principle “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.” These rights were given by God and they rightfully acknowledged that these rights can never be taken away from men nor by any man because these have been endowed on them by the Creator. Alas, the Source of these rights, which all Americans still hold dear, has been taken out of the public discourse, often deliberately so. Take away the source, the rights and the endowments will also eventually be taken away too. That would seem to be the logical consequence.

Second, the early Americans seemed focused on the pursuit while today people are more focused on the happiness. In the beginning, Americans were busy engaged in creating a New World, making this country the greatest one on earth, building things like nothing ever built before anywhere, producing the best, the biggest, the brightest of anything the world had ever invented, including many things the world had never seen before. Today, Americans seem more preoccupied in enjoying the fruits of those labors by buying happiness in leisure, entertainment and, of late, the social media. The Founding Fathers’ ideal is not happiness itself but its pursuit. The journey, not the destination, is what they enshrined in their declaration.

Third, The greatest democracy on earth and in all of history has also democratized the tools and the trappings of happiness: homes, cars, clothes, TVs, phones, travel, leisure, good food, etc. These things are there for everyone to enjoy. In the old societies, some of these things were reserved only for the very wealthy or for some classes of people or for some castes. And since everyone can have these things, it strikes me that happiness is not in having or possessing them. Happiness is rather defined by the people we share or experience these things with. A home can be very lonely unless shared with people I love. A vacation to some fabulous place can be very boring unless I experience it with friends and loved ones. And it is no fun going to a concert or a ball game all by myself.

These thoughts cannot make me fail to realize the deep Christian roots of American society: that all of these blessings are gifts from God; that we are called to a journey to go back to our Source, the ultimate Happiness; that we are called and blessed individually but also as a community. And with these thoughts, it is quite easy to see how Jesus could be so detached from material possessions and eschew worldly power and glory.

A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Matthew 8:18-22

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