If I could go back in time and choose a moment to sit down with Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, I would choose June 30, 1776.
I would tell him straight up, “Tom, let’s tweak this thing a little bit more.”
“You’re going to put Americans in a tizzy if you write the word ‘pursuit’ in our Declaration of Independence.”
You see, we American’s have forged into our hearts from that founding document a divine destiny, “the pursuit of happiness,” that keeps us asking: What’s next?
Mr. Jefferson, you have helped set this attitude in Americans to constantly strive to make things better, to acquire more things, and to make life easier. The American psyche has been working like a squirrel in autumn ever since you penned us this Creator-endowed right to pursue happiness.
We’re obsessed with this pursuit because it’s right next to life and liberty.
So, I’d bring it up to Mr. Jefferson like this, “Before you submit this, um, declaration to be signed by everyone, could we imagine ahead, say 251 years, when the ideals of liberty have been achieved by the American people? Do you really think happiness is going to be the big pursuit at that time?”
Americans have every right to be happy today. We have plenty of food and varieties of, we have plenty of transportation and varieties of. We’ve plenty of creature comforts and entertainments, plenty of education and vocational opportunities, and plenty of faiths and opinions. Thus, you might say that we have plenty of happiness already, such that we don’t need to be forever in its pursuit.
Look at the word “pursuit.” If you are in pursuit of something, you are not in possession of it, right? You are pursuing it and as such it will be just out of your reach.
So, I decided at one point that “I will no longer be in pursuit of happiness.” I will possess happiness.
That was my mini declaration of independence. Not that I have given up on happiness, far from it. I’m just not twirling in its pursuit but instead feeling I possess it.
Happiness, of course, is a good topic to explore and explain. Let me be simple about it: If I’m in possession of happiness, then I no longer am in pursuit of happiness. And if I make this my tagline, it means that at this very moment happiness should exist for me.
Well, does it? Am I as wealthy as I dream of getting? Are you kidding? Are all my relationships working out well? Not exactly. Is my current occupation what I dreamed as a kid I would be doing? Not at all.
It’s like I’m tolerating existence. I’m just putting on a good face.
So, if I really declare to NOT pursue happiness any longer, then I must either ignore my present lack of disposition or decide on embodying an attitude.
Let’s put some perspective on this. This last week, I heard someone protesting something, and they said, “I have a right to be offended.”
Really, I thought? Hmmm, that is a bold declaration. But after a while, I concluded that they do have the right to be offended. And certainly then, I have the right to be happy.
As you know, attitude is everything. In our nation, we allow people the freedom to have their own attitude, whether we agree with it or not, whether it sucks or not, because attitude is how people chart their own course in life. That is their liberty.
The Creator gives you the right to life and liberty, but you must use it. How you do so may either trap you behind bars or set you climbing mountains. Same thing with happiness. It’s yours to either pursue or possess. Pursuing is forever just out of reach. Possessing is right here right now.
That rascally founding document of ours set into the American heart an eternal pursuit of happiness and not happiness itself.
Americans will not be happy until we create self-driving cars, apps that do the laundry, drones that deliver pizza, and the next big thing for big-screen TVs whatever that is; or at least to have enough money to buy those things.
I want to tell Americans, “Hey, we’ve arrived. You can take your foot off that ‘pursuit’” pedal.” Life is good. Enjoy your right endowed by The Creator to happiness itself.
Inadvertently, when I made my mini-declaration to possess happiness, I also happened to snub one of our most respected Founding Fathers, that’s why I want to sit down with him and make amends.
“So, my suggestion, Mr. Jefferson, make it plain, write it like this: “…the right to life, liberty, and happiness.”
Eugene Harnett has raised five children in Eagle River, owns his own business here, and has been involved in local and state affairs since 1988. To reach Eugene, email firstname.lastname@example.org