The majority of people are well acquainted with these famous lines from the Declaration of Independence.
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.
We see, written in one of the most sacred articles of Freedom since the Magna Carta, that we have a right to the pursuit of Happiness. The question, which entices endless debate and rhetoric, is how do we define happiness?
Noah Webster, a contemporary of the Founding Fathers, defined Happiness as this:
HAP’PINESS, noun [from happy.] The agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which his desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; but happiness usually expresses less than felicity, and felicity less than bliss. Happiness is comparative. To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires. Perfect happiness or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life.
From this definition, we can easily conclude that much of our happiness depends on circumstances and situations, but varies widely in scope and intensity.
To understand the sentiments expressed by Jefferson we must remember the period in which these words were written. The world was changing, for the first time a Colony was standing against its mother country, asking for nothing more than the rights of Englishmen. The English Nation was also changing, no longer were aristocrats all powerful, able to do what they wanted without consequence. The merchant class was accumulating significant power. The aristocrats found themselves subject to the opinions of powerful burgers and Franklins, men of the middle class, who were acquiring a voice in government.
The system by which men and women were held in place based on birth was decaying, the enlightenment philosophy was spreading, and the demand for basic rights was growing. By the work of the American Revolution, a country was formed without a hereditary government: A republic, with greater opportunities for advancement than Rome could have imagined.
With these opportunities came social mobility. Through skill, diligence, and pluck, you could move well beyond your station in life.
So long as it is lawful, a man may pursue whatever makes him happy. No matter what that happiness may be, from forming a business to working on cars, or even marrying the girl of his dreams. This is not a license to do whatever stupid things you want, but freedom to do the great things you can.
The pursuit of Happiness is not as confusing as we think, it is about being able to find where we are happy, to find our place of contentment. It is about the American Dream.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m pursuing happiness.