The Pursuit of Happiness

The “pursuit of happiness” is often referred to as a constitutional right; however it is not mentioned in the Constitution. It is, in fact, derived from the Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are referred to as each individual’s “unalienable” rights. But these rights are not conferred to us by government. The framers of the document state that all peoples are “endowed” with these rights “by their Creator” (whomever that may be for that person). With that clarification in hand, let’s look at what that means in our world today.

Does it mean that we can pursue happiness in whatever form we like? If robbing banks and taking other people’s money makes me happy, am I afforded the right to do so by my Creator? No, not quite. Inherent in the statement is the fact that you cannot engage in behavior that would deny anyone else their rights. Murder, theft, unlawful detention, kidnapping, etc., are all actions that deny someone else their right to life, liberty, and/or their pursuit of happiness. So societal rules are established through the passing and enforcement of laws that are designed, not to insure your rights are never infringed upon, but so that if and when they are there are repercussions and punishments for those who have acted in such a manner. Though our elected officials we are given a voice as to what these laws should be. By definition, according to the United States, the pursuit of happiness is defined as: “…one of the “unalienable rights” of people enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, along with “life” and “liberty.” “The right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give them their highest enjoyment.” Butchers’ Co. v. Crescent City Co., 111 U.S. 746, 757, (1884.)”

So we can readily see that our right of “the pursuit of happiness” is given to us by our Creator, and the same right is protected by our government through the adoption and enforcement of laws. We have the right to pursue happiness, and yet many of our citizens seem to be unhappy. It is much like the quip my brother has used when I have complained about not catching any fish on an outing, “that is why they call it fishing, not catching”. We can pursue happiness it all we want, we just have no guarantees from the Creator or the government that we will obtain it.

And how could we have a guarantee that we will individually achieve what is an emotional state? That is impossible. We must, as individuals, determine where our own happiness lies. But we must also understand that happiness is not a material possession. It is a state of mind. And your Creator or government cannot endow you with an emotional state. Happiness is not the feeling of being contented, safe, wealthy, or loved. These emotions may bring you joy, comfort, security; or in the case of wealth, any manner of material things that will illicit those emotions for you. But they are not happiness. If they were, those with much would always be happy, and those with little would not. However, our own life experiences show us that is not the truth. I have travelled and met people who owned little or nothing; rarely had basic needs fulfilled, lived in constant fear of violence, and are often separated from the family or friends who can show them love. And yet I have heard them say they were happy. Some were just happy to be alive.

How can this be? It is because happiness is a choice. We have the ability to choose how we feel regardless of outside influences or conditions. You can pursue all you would like, but happiness is not a quarry it is a decision. It is a personal choice. Do not begrudge me my choice to be happy, and I will never interfere with your choice to be less than happy, if that is what you choose.

© 2012  Commonsensibly Speaking ~ Brad Osborne

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