THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
By Hal O'Leary
"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."
The idea that The pursuit of happiness might be an unalienable right was given to us two hundred years
ago by Thomas Jefferson, but how many Americans ever stop to think just exactly what that phrase
implies? A right to the pursuit says little in the absence of an understanding of what constitutes
happiness. A right to the pursuit means little if our understanding of the phrase lies in
conforming to the rhetoric of politicians who call for a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot. To
equate happiness with keeping up with the Joneses, is a complete misreading of what Jefferson
intended, leading less to happiness than to nothing more than an envy of one's neighbor.
Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson said it best. "We are to seek our well-being as we
define our well-being, and determine for ourselves the means by which it might be achieved." In
pursuit of that well-being, the unique talents of each individual must first be discovered and then
developed. Since there are no two individuals alike, each must find his own path, which is to found by
listening to the dictates of the heart not the head, for It is there one discovers those unique talents, the
development of which provides the potential for self-fulfillment, which is the only true source of
happiness. Only in this way, can you become the best whatever and whomever you were meant to be.
To understand Jefferson's phrase, we must realize that the right he speaks of is that of seeking
self-fulfillment without governmental intrusion. The government will play no role by edict or coercion
in determining the path any individual should follow in a quest for individual happiness. This, of course,
does not take into consideration the societal intrusion in the form of peer pressure the head might
succumb to. Herein lies the folly and the great failing of a competitive economic system that urges
conformity in assuming that happiness is to be found in the acquisition of material assets. We wind up
competing for a happiness that, in a mad rush to acquire, simply does not exist. The source for true
happiness lies not from without but from within. In truth, by the amassing of material assets, one
becomes a prisoner of one's possessions, confined and restricted by them in a need to protect and
preserve them. The alienation that results leads to a distrust of others, which is contrary to the essence of
humanity, which is a concern for and sharing with others. Therein lies the only hope for true happiness.
The folly of a happiness, with no concern or thought of sharing it, is folly indeed. Nay, it is an
impossibility. While the sharing of material assets may mean sacrifice, there is no sacrifice in the sharing
of one's uniqueness. Indeed, that uniqueness is only enhanced.
Jefferson's phrase places the onus for finding a proper pursuit for happiness on each individual, for it
will only be found within one's self, beginning with a rejection of the idea, espoused by our society, that
you can be anything you might choose. The idea that, here in America, if you go to the right school, take
the necessary courses in a field that promises the greatest monetary reward, your success and ultimate
happiness is assured. That is the misunderstanding of the Jeffersonian phrase. Any pursuit of happiness
based on such a premise is doomed to failure unless by the fickle fortune of fate your choice coincides
with your inner desire and need for self-fulfillment, hence the only true source of happiness.