The pursuit of happiness

2012-10-07T06:15:00Z The pursuit of happiness The Times and Democrat

It’s one of the basic foundations of being an American.

“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,” wrote Thomas Jefferson when he was crafting the Declaration of Independence.

In my readings, I can find no source that definitively identifies what Jefferson meant when he coined the phrase. But in this day and time of self-interest, it would benefit us all to examine how we might interpret this fundamental right.

Happiness is not a guarantee, regardless of where you live. We all live out an illusion of happiness until some catastrophic event bursts through, destroying that illusion and forcing us to face what truly defines happiness — what truly defines us.

Each of us will suffer in countless ways through times of grief, tragedy, uncertainty and fear. The foundations of our core values, if we are fortunate, will be challenged deeply enough to compel us to examine who we are and what we believe.

When we determine the answer, then we free ourselves to pursue that ideal. I find too many people are satisfied with superficial answers to the question — answers that far too often center on self-serving goals rather than self-giving goals.

Superficial happiness revolves around money, power, position, social influence, where you live, what you drive, how many homes you own, how large your primary residence is, what neighborhood you live in, recreation, competition ... the list goes on. None of these will save a single soul when catastrophe hits. Many of them will become like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s albatross, hung around the neck as a reminder of poor choices.

There is nothing wrong with having money, power and position, but when those values become the driving force of your life, you miss out on what truly and deeply contributes to genuine happiness. Confronting your mortality through illness will wipe away any sense of security, especially if you take your life for granted. Death will threaten the sanctuary of self-service. Any of us who experienced the losses of the 2008 stock market crash know that money is never entirely secure. What we counted on, for many of us, is simply no longer there.

What, then, do we pursue to be truly happy? I learned a valuable lesson that has guided my attitude toward possessions and rights. My great-aunt, Bessie Lee, had two diamond rings. Bessie Lee never married. She promised one ring to my father (to be given to me) and one to his sister (to be given to her daughter). The details are unimportant, but another family member challenged the gifting and took the ring intended for me.

When my father told me what had happened and that he did not intend to pursue his “happiness” by getting what he had been promised, I assured him, “The ring really doesn’t matter. I got the very best of what Bessie Lee had — and that was her love and affection. Nothing matters more. Not even that diamond ring.”

I learned early that relationships based on love, trust, support and encouragement contribute more to my own sense of happiness than any material possession that I own. Bessie Lee was one of the most self-giving people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. She was a role model for me.

Having moved four times in my young life, I also learned that it’s not where you live or how long you’ve lived there or how far back you can trace your ancestry that provides happiness. Home is wherever I am surrounded by people who love me. I have been at home in five communities, in a college town, at a summer job in the North Carolina mountains, and anywhere on the planet when I gather with my six college sisters.

Life tragedies have caused me to examine my core values again and again. Am I happy every day? No. Am I genuinely a happy person? Absolutely. I think it’s because I left the superficiality of world happiness in my dust long, long ago.

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(3) Comments

  1. Easy
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    Easy - October 07, 2012 11:11 am
    During the debate Obama spoke of bigger govt and what he govt could/will do. Romney reminded us of our Founding Fathers who carved this nation out of government-oppressed colonies before it was ever a nation and the responsibilities of every citizen rather than relying on a government that seeks to grow bigger, amassing more & more power, and dictating to its people the course of the nation instead of the people, as it is provided for in the Constitution, doing so. The choice is clear...
  2. Easy
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    Easy - October 07, 2012 11:05 am
    I agree money should not become an Idol, that we should help each other. Obama believes it's the govt's role to provide for people from craddle to grave, to provide for our every need. He then demonized Romney, accusing him of not paying taxes & of not caring for anyone. In 2011 Romney paid $1.8 Million in taxes & gave OVER $4 MILLION TO CHARITY - 30% of his income...compared to the $369 TOTAL Biden gave while 'preaching' giving one's 'fair share'. Socialists love to spend/give OTHERS' money.
  3. Easy
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    Easy - October 07, 2012 10:59 am
    The PURSUIT of happiness is a journey every American is guaranteed. The govt's job is not to dictate HOW MUCH happiness is enough or to step in & take from those on that journey to give to those who have decided not to put forth in any effort to attempt to make the trek themselves. Once again President Obama opined it is the government's job to make sure everyone has an equal share in that 'happiness'. Romney reminded us of the Constitution written on the wall behind them the govt must protect.
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