Well, upon pondering this question, I decided to use my skills as a student to research and uncover the mysteries of this part of our nation's Declaration of Independence. Aka, I typed it in Google, and the first source seemed pretty legit. (It even had sources cited... I trust it.) In this article, I learned that when Jefferson wrote about the pursuit of happiness, it wasn't the first time someone had brought up this phrase (at least that's what Carol Hamilton argues). Instead, it is suggested that in 1690 our dear friend from the pages of many a history book, John Locke, wrote in an essay, "The necessity of pursuing happiness is the foundation of liberty." I found that very interesting. So, essentially, freedom is equivocated with chasing after happiness.
I guess the next question I was confronted with is: what is happiness? It is an age-old question that has left even the world's most successful people scrambling for an answer. How can we chase something we can't even identify? We're like Ponce de Leon perpetually searching for the fountain of youth that may or may not exist. What do we do when we don't understand something? Pretend we do, naturally. As a culture we have made up our own guidelines as to what exactly happiness is. Happiness is doing whatever you want to do. Happiness is making the most money. Happiness is seeking pleasure. Happiness is watching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls and devouring a two-pound bar of chocolate. Well, if that's what happiness is, why are we so unhappy? America should be the happiest place on Earth! (Sorry Disney World, I'm expanding your claim to fame.) But are we happy?
Hmmm. Okay, so maybe this "pursuit of happiness" John Locke talks about has become a little muddled across the years. In my own experience, I have come to realize that the only true happiness actually goes by a different name: joy. If you don't know what I mean, let me explain. Joy is that deep feeling of peace and contentment you experience that can only come from God. Wow. I'm not very good at explaining it. Have you ever been happy and felt like nothing could shake it? That's joy. Ever see a sunset or sunrise or pass through beautiful landscape and you can't help but smile because it's so beautiful? That's joy. Joy is a gift. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is more genuine than any sort of sugar high or adrenaline rush.
On the topic of happiness, I have to say, I agree with François-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận who so eloquently states in his book The Road of Hope, "This is the secret of happiness: to have but one will with God." God wills to give us joy through the Holy Spirit. To be of the same will of God is not only to accept His trials, but to accept His joy.
Unfortunately, there is no way I can convince modern America of this truth. Our society is plagued with a false perception of happiness. I don't know what Jefferson foresaw when he included "the pursuit of happiness" in the unalienable rights, but I have a feeling he wouldn't like what he saw in today's society. We think we are pursuing happiness, but in actuality, the things we pursue are a dead end. The U.S. was intended to be one nation, under GOD. Our society will never be happy until it recognizes that we remain under God. We are not God.
As Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “God doesn't require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.” I think that it is about time we actually tried to pursue genuine happiness by unifying our own will with God's. It is then that we will find true joy.
|Learn from the words of a modern saint|