Saturday, October 6, 2012


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 be discovered and developed.

Since there are no two individuals alike, each must find his own path, which is to be found in the heart not the head, for It is there one finds a true 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 into the heart. 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 material assets. We wind up competing for happiness in acquisition. It simply does not exist. The source for true happiness lies not without but within. In truth, by the amassing of the material, 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 and any hope for happiness. The folly of happiness with no thought of sharing it is folly indeed. Nay, it is an impossibility. There is no sacrifice in the sharing of one’s uniqueness.  Indeed, the double source of happiness, the fulfillment that comes from  the exercise of one’s unique talents and the gratification that comes with the recognition of and appreciation for  the sharing of those talents with others, may result in the only true and lasting happiness free of the competition and envy that is found in the fruitless pursuit of a material advantage. 

Jefferson’s phrase places the one’s unique onus for finding a proper pursuit for happiness on each individual, for it will only be found within one’s self in the development of talents.
This short essay is published on this blog with the consent of Hal O'Leary.

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