The Declaration of Independence declares “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.”
The meaning of happiness is quite varied and is different from person to person. It is uncertain what the authors of the Declaration of Independence meant by the phrase “pursuit of happiness.” Perhaps they were guided by the writings of John Locke, Dr. Samuel Johnson, or Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who provided insight into the meaning of happiness.
There are several factors that are common to happiness: loving relationships, good health and healthcare and the opportunity to earn a livelihood. All are necessary to creating a feeling of well-being.
Loving relationships have been espoused by many great minds. In his book “Love and Loving,” Fr. Thomas Merton expressed, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” Perhaps the most persuasive thinker on the subject was Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that to love your neighbor as yourself is one of the greatest attributes. The bible records this teaching in numerous gospels. With regard to loving your neighbor, Pope Benedict wrote in his encyclical “God is Love,” “Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor.” The bible also gives us insight by describing the qualities of loving relationships. One of these qualities is stewardship, that is, the sharing of time, talent and treasure with others.
We know from our own experiences that giving creates a release of endorphins that makes us feel good, overall enhancing our feeling of well-being. It is in that feeling that we come to understand the oxymoron in the Prayer of Francis of Assisi; it is in giving that we receive.
Enduring loving relationships is a critical component of happiness and its pursuit. We would do well to understand the essential qualities of a loving relationship.
Other components of happiness are good health and good healthcare. The parameters of the condition of our health are set by our inherited qualities as well as by our choices. Good health is critical to our ability to function effectively and to a feeling of well-being. Closely related is the availability of healthcare providers. While our healthcare system is not perfect, many of us are fortunate to receive the healthcare that we require. In the absence of good health, it is difficult to have a sense of well-being and to pursue happiness.
The opportunity to earn a livelihood is important in the pursuit of happiness. This is dependent upon and constrained by our talents, education, job training, motivation, work ethic, and the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. The opportunity for education, job training and work experience are the foundation of earning a livelihood while the motivation to succeed and the willingness to work hard also have a great impact on our success. A perfect example is illustrated in the ESPN series “The Last Dance” heralding the experience of basketball star Michael Jordan. While we do not all have the talent and good fortune of Michael Jordan, we can duplicate his motivation and work ethic.
The opportunity to earn a livelihood is a significant factor that differentiates America from the rest of the world. It has prompted millions of people to emigrate from their homeland to the U.S. in search of a better life. I know that this was the motivating reason for my parents and my ancestors to come to America and it proved to be true; they found a better life. Almost 50 years after my parents immigrated to the U.S., they returned to Italy to visit relatives and friends. They traveled the entire country from Genoa and Milan in the north to Reggio Calabria in the south. Upon their return to America, I asked my mother what she thought of Italy. She responded: “Italy is a beautiful country and it is the land where I was born and raised and I love it, but you cannot beat the United States of America.” The truth of those words resonates with me to this very day, many years after they were spoken.
The political vitriol currently pervading our country underscores the need to always bear in mind the beautiful expression that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right endowed by our creator. We must always strive to secure, preserve and protect that right for everyone.