“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.”
– United States Declaration of Independence
The ‘pursuit of Happiness’ … It’s one of the best-known phrases in the English language, but what does it mean?
- Is it a declaration of human rights?
- Is it a moral standard for our nation to strive for?
- Is it a guarantee of personal freedom?
- Is it an assurance of certain entitlements?
We suffer no shortage of opinions. Strangely, however, the ‘how’ continues to elude many. How do you pursue Happiness?
Frankly, this question has haunted me since I moved to Los Angeles four years ago. It didn’t take me long to name the specter: Materialism. Hot cars; Big houses; Designer clothes; Plastic surgery – all in a proportion unrivaled anywhere else in the world. There’s a lot of money here, and even more being spent.
Notably, it doesn’t seem to accrue in happiness.
That’s the reality check. There’s a lot more to love about Los Angeles than the great weather! There are wonderful people here, too – and, the opportunity to pursue Happiness. But, practically, if it’s not about the toys, title, looks, or bank account, how do you ‘win’ your “pursuit of Happiness?”
In reality, whether you’re in Los Angeles or Luxembourg, I think Happiness requires fidelity to at least four things, in descending order of importance:
- Fidelity to Belief – The great American evangelist D.L. Moody said, “Some people have just enough religion to make them miserable.” It’s true. Many people have yet to settle life’s ultimate questions, content instead to tune out their gnawing presence. Others ‘buy in’ but refuse to ‘sell out.’ Happiness requires people in both categories to take action; however, it’s the later group most negatively affected! They end up acting contrary to what they claim to believe, and then feel bad about it. In truth, we all struggle with this to some degree and, as the Apostle Paul elaborates, it’s a powerful fight within us (Romans 7:14-25). Figuring out where you stand and then standing firm is the ultimate prerequisite to happiness because it’s not possible to establish peace of mind until you do.
- Fidelity to a Worthy Purpose – Author and activist Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not gained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Accordingly, here’s the next big question: What’s your life’s purpose? This can be very difficult to answer. Your purpose must be bigger than you and worth the investment of your life, but the concept defies further generic explanation. Instead, each individual must undertake the investment of time, effort, and exploration to arrive at the answer. It seems to come quickly for some, but only after a great deal of trial and error for others. Nonetheless, if you want to be happy, you must discover your life’s purpose because it’s the cornerstone of satisfaction.
- Fidelity to Important Relationships – My therapist-wife, Rachelle, and I discuss this topic often. Sometimes it’s healthy to break off relationships, but one pattern of human behavior therapists see repeatedly is the tendency to hold onto unhealthy relationships, and leave healthy ones. This stems, in part, from the difficulty some people experience in mitigating unhealthy, destructive conflict and fostering healthy, constructive conflict instead. The strife can result in severing, but not just from the other person. Most people don’t realize that it also results in a sort of severing from the self! Specifically, relational inhibitions result from the inability to coexist with someone else in healthy conflict. And, when you have problems fostering intimate relationships with other people, your fulfillment is negatively affected – and so is your happiness.
- Fidelity to Yourself – Lastly, I think happiness requires becoming the best ‘you’ possible. This requires learning to exist in the tension of positive self-efficacy (i.e., goal setting/attainment) and humility (i.e., correct view of self). Interestingly, we generally struggle with both! Societal promotion of instant gratification hinders our ability to set long-term goals and make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish them. Meanwhile, we fail to recognize arrogance and insecurity as two halves of the same coin of dysfunctional self. As a result, we lack legitimate confidence, and that detracts from our happiness.
The most interesting thing I’ve noticed in pondering this topic is when you have these four things in place, the ‘pursuit’ is over. Happiness need no longer be ‘pursued’ because it ‘ensues!’ This is true, even though many other difficulties may come your way. Happiness defies adversity because it is unavoidably cultivated when your life’s foundations are in place, your purpose is established, your relationships are growing, and your identity is secure. Consequently, with the four points above as a guide, anybody can win the ‘pursuit of Happiness!’ Here’s a toast to yours.
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