Find us on Google+

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Pursuit of Not-Happiness

What if the Declaration of Independence is wrong? What if, 235 years ago, when Thomas Jefferson wrote out the combined thoughts of the delegates gathered, they missed the point? At least in part.

The second paragraph starts:
"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."
I won't get into the first two rights, but "the pursuit of happiness" seems to be, shall we say, a bit much. How is that so core to our country's identity that we had to include it in the declaration of rebellion against the British crown? Yet, it seems to be true.

Happiness is what people want. Commercials tell us that we're not happy without the product that they offer. The ratings for well-being for our country are based on how happy people are with the performance of the President or the stock market. Individual success is determined based on how happy we appear to be. We relentlessly pursue happiness, which stays always just out of reach. It's fleeting, like most emotions.

This pursuit, this American right, has crept in to religion. Doctrines are constructed from the Archimedean point of God wanting us to be happy. All else hinges on that one belief.

What if it's not true?

In an article at Psychology Today, Melissa Kirk reflects on the question: "Is happiness even the point?"
"It made me wonder if our culture's seeming obsession with the pursuit of happiness misses the point entirely. Not that we shouldn't seek balance, but happiness? Why is happiness so important, and is it, in fact, even sustainable? And if we were happy all of the time, how would we learn to surf the waves of our emotions, and to gracefully dance with our shadows?"
Happiness isn't an end. It's a waypoint on the journey, but so are pain, sadness, mourning, anger and all of our other emotions. We react to life, we learn, we grow. Sometimes we feel happy in all of that, but that's not the point. Just like sex isn't the point of marriage, happiness isn't the point of life.

How does it change our culture if we stop pursuing happiness? How does it change your day today?

2 comments:

Tim Lewis said...

John Locke (among some of the founding fathers) preceded this with life, liberty, and property. Jefferson and Franklin wanted to change it, especially Franklin who believed that property should be taxed to finance a civil government. I don't know if the pursuit of happiness has to do with physical health or belongings more than it has to do with being able to do whatever we want. What we want is garbage. Most of the time we don't even know what it is.

James Wood said...

I did not know about the argument that preceded this phrase. Interesting.

Our wants lead us to indulge rather than grow. Indulging isn't bad for a time, but as a way of life it's destruction.