Monday, July 02, 2007

The audacity of a right to pursue happiness

Today's UPI column bears a title I didn't choose, but a topic I did. :) I have more thoughts about happiness and if I get a chance later, I'll add to the column here with a few footnotes. I'd be interested in what you think the "right to pursue happiness" actually means today. Where does my right start and stop?


Kansas Bob said...

Your column reminded me of the Will Smith movie. The movie tells us that sometimes it really costs to pursue happiness ... sometimes it costs our family members.

On a personal level, I find that the hardest part of pursuing happiness is really comng to grips with those things deep within me that have been suppressed for so long. Connecting with those deep dreams ... dealing with the fear and insecurities and going after those heart desires is so difficult but so necessary.

Dave said...

I think of "the pursuit of happiness" as perhaps the most generically applicable and euphonious phrase they could come up with to fill out that particular clause in the Declaration of Independence. They were basically trying to describe the right to be free, to live one's life and do what one felt the most enjoyment from doing, with the background assumption that it didn't involve criminality, sheer licentiousness, etc. I think the "founding fathers" operated under a sense of obligation that they would conduct themselves responsibly and live in such a way that they didn't bring shame on themselves or the society they led. This lent them a moral focus but also gave them an easy rationalization as to why women, blacks and Indians weren't equally considered when it came to laws, property and voting rights, etc.

As for what it means today, I think that the "right to pursue happiness" basically preserves us from having the meaning of our lives interpreted as servitude to any institution, government or other externally-imposed authority system. It means that none of us are born into any kind of obligation to a higher power, but that if we choose to submit to one because we think it's the right and happiness-inducing thing to do, the government will not send its minions in to forcibly change our mind. So in that sense it's important. But I think we have to recognize that there are a great many in our society who are ready to see that right as negotiable if it comes to supposedly "guaranteeing" safety, security, order, structure, predictability, etc. So we have to do what we can to keep simple happiness as a valid, legitimate end in itself.

Keren said...

I like this article here.

A snippet from the start:

"Here's what I believe. I believe that extolling the pursuit of happiness was a toxic stupidity entirely unworthy of my greatest American hero, Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, it is a poison that sickens our culture more wretchedly every nanosecond. I wish he'd never said it.

It produces a monstrous, insatiable hunger inside our national psyche that encourages us ever more ravenously to devour all the resources of this small planet, crushing liberties, snuffing lives, feeling ourselves ordained by God and Jefferson to do whatever is necessary to make us happy.

And yet the American people are miserable. Or so it would appear."

julieunplugged said...

Keren, thanks for the link. There's a lot about that article I like (he's got great writing skills, for one thing!).

I especially liked his four principles for happiness:

They are: a sense of mission, the casual service of others, the solace of little delights, and finally, love for its own sake.

Though I have as much screed to write on having a mission as he does on the pursuit of happiness. That one for another time.

Seems to me that happiness (as conceived in the Declaration) had more to do with the conditions that make it possible to even do the four things he cites above.

But I certainly do appreciate his critique of consumerism and the general misery that exudes from many well-fed, amply educated, healthy Americans.