The Pursuit of Happiness

A section of the United States Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This powerful statement is the foundation on which this country stands, and cannot be said of many other countries, if any.

I’ve always understood this assertion to mean that men (and women) were created in God’s image and were imbued with the right – rather, the free will – to live life in a meaningful and purposeful way. To assist in this endeavor, a series of values and laws were set forth as a guideline and framework by which to pursue and protect one’s right to Life and Liberty.

But what about Happiness? Do we even know what it is? Wikipedia defines it as a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” I take this to mean that Happiness is a subjective, variable situation; often dependent upon one’s biological make up, political views, religious practices, choice of profession, philosophical out look, or psychological condition. In line with this, many believe that Happiness is conditional and that we each have the power to control how we experience it.

So, how then does one pursue Happiness?

As a mother, I often say that – on any given day – I am as happy as my least happy child. If my kids are good, I’m good. It’s not a cop-out. It’s how I really feel. But there’s more…Happiness for me is not a goal or an objective to be chased and measured. I believe it comes as a result of saying and doing the right things. By taking action, pursuing “good stuff,” and seeing positive results unfold, I derive a sense of satisfaction or joy.

The concept of Happiness actually is not well described in Judaism. An idea that comes close, however, is in the Ethics of the Fathers. There it says:  “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot” (Pirkei Avot, 4:1). Okay, so what if you’re not happy with your lot in life? Well, change it! If certain aspects of your life – your work, your relationships, your wardrobe, your weight, your home, etc. – bother or concern you, then you have the “inalienable right” to put a plan in place and take the necessary steps to change these situations. But remember that change is something that must be wanted, owned, and made to happen. It must be pursued with focus, dedication, patience, and integrity before results are realized.

Once you achieve your goals, you hopefully will feel grateful and enriched by your accomplishments. Only then will you truly understand and appreciate the concepts of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

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