A mid-week quick post
Like you, I studied the Declaration of Independence in school. Like you, I don’t remember much about it, except that it is long, and dry, and one of a bunch of documents that have fundamentally shaped our nation, including the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and TV Guide. In short, the Declaration was a way for a bunch of British subjects to give their king ‘the finger,’ and to lay out in painful detail why this was not a rude thing to do. Last year I really read, for the first time, one short section at the beginning, and I finally understood why this whole happiness thing is such a big deal to Americans.
Let me share a few words from the founders (in bold) and a few thoughts from me (in unbold).
We hold these truths to be self-evident… Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and Roger Sherman (not all the founding fathers became famous) believed that the things they were about to list should be patently obvious to anyone.
that all men are created equal… Kind of a no-brainer; easy to say, has proven much, much harder to live out.
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… Hear this clearly: they believed (or at least claimed) that these rights were given by God, fundamental things owed every human being. Three were important enough to list here at the start:
that among these are Life, Liberty…don’t kill people or enslave them.
and the pursuit of Happiness. Now we’re into crazy talk. They claimed that the right to seek happiness is also a gift from God and is just as fundamental as life itself? They were so sure about this that they went to war over it, and we’ve been doing the same ever since.
It gets even better.
— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…. Government’s reason for existing is to protect life, freedom, and PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO PURSUE HAPPINESS.
— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… If government is not helping you find happiness, it’s your right to dump it, like they were dumping their King.
and to institute new government…..organizing its powers in such form, as to…..effect their Safety and Happiness. After you throw the scoundrels out, make sure you find new scoundrels whose goal is to keep you safe and free and happy. 2017 should be a fascinating year on this count.
Why is happiness such a consuming pursuit for Americans? This nation was founded by men who thought happiness-seeking was as important as life, and was a gift from God, and that any government that couldn’t insure this fundamental thing should be sacked. Our whole society has evolved with this pursuit at its core. You and I are the true heirs of these men, and in ways we don’t even recognize we vigorously chase this “right” every day. I can certainly think of worse things on which to base a society. I can also think of some much better ones.
I am deeply grateful that our founders guaranteed us the right to pursue happiness. I just wish they could have guaranteed us the right to find it.
You can read here about why this pursuit of happiness sometimes makes Americans less happy than other people around the planet.