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The Pursuit of Happiness

By       Message Hal O'Leary     Permalink
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The article purports to show that the only true source of happinss comes from within as opposed to without in the accumulation of material wealth.


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By Hal O'Leary

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"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

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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.


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Hal O'Leary is an 88 year old veteran of WWII who, having spent his life in theatre, and as a Secular Humanist, believes that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. As an 'atheist (more...)
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