The pursuit of happiness: just saying those words conjures up a uniquely American ideal. We picture Horatio Alger rags to riches stories, or maybe Will Smith’s movie The Pursuit of Happyness. We all recognize the moments when happiness peeks around the corner, and we want more of it.
And guess what? It’s your right to pursue happiness!
The pursuit of happiness is an incredible, inalienable right in America, opening up doors to so many avenues that could bring happiness to a person. There is, of course, a caveat to this statement. You have freedom to pursue happiness, not actually have happiness. It is not guaranteed. And whatever you’re pursuing cannot be harmful to yourself or to others. For example, if rocks make you happy, you can’t throw them at people, their cars, or animals. Or if you enjoy music, by all means listen to Spotify all day long! Just don’t crank it so loud that the neighbors call the cops on you. See what we mean?
After “the pursuit of happiness” was included in The Declaration of Independence, many times this was interpreted as “and the pursuit of property.” Early Americans correlated the ultimate happiness with property, and oftentimes desired nothing more than to venture out and claim land as their own so they could build a house, start or raise their family there, and be part of something new and exciting in unsettled territory. There were only thirteen states, after all, when the Declaration was signed, and the move out west had yet to happen so land was bountiful for everyone.
The Pursuit of Happiness Today
What does the pursuit of happiness look like in America today? What makes Americans the happiest? According to recent studies, American positivity and optimism can be tied most closely to relational connection. It’s all about spending time with those you care about, helping those in need and giving back.
In a test group to look at the correlation between relationships and happiness, 100% of the participants showed a jump in oxytocin levels (the love hormone) just by thinking about their loved ones, even if it meant looking at their Tweets or Facebook updates versus being face to face with them.
Following closely behind relationships, the American pursuit of happiness comes through working hard and gaining professional success, sticking close to religion (those who pray, go through liturgy, listen through sermons more regularly report being happier), and a general optimism that even though life and Americans aren’t perfect, our culture is superior to others and overall, we’re a happy culture.
Surprisingly, though we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world, money itself doesn’t bring happiness. Vanilla Ice once said, “One thing I didn’t understand in life was that I had $100,000,000 in the bank and I couldn’t buy happiness. I had everything: mansions, yachts, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, but I was depressed. I didn’t know where I fit in. But then I found family and friends and I learned the value of life.”
For those of us at Republican Coffee, the pursuit of happiness includes making a hot, fresh cup of coffee and enjoying the things that make America great. Sometimes that means curling up with a great book or tackling a to-do project on the weekend. Other times, it’s traveling the country and enjoying what makes America so great, whether it’s the history in Boston, the Southern charm of Nashville, the fresh seafood and arts culture in Seattle, the amazing sunsets and palm trees of South Florida, or the “Old West” pride and culture of Texas. America offers promise and abundant liberty; it’s up to us to make the most of it!
But more than all those things, for us the pursuit of happiness focuses on what makes America truly the greatest nation on earth, the people. We want our neighbors and countrymen to spend time rediscovering community, having conversations, and helping each other out.
The election season is getting pretty brutal out there. There’s so much mud that it is difficult to even sling it, let alone escape it. And some of that is just to be expected. It’s part of the age-old political process. Politics isn’t a profession for the thin-skinned. Where passions are engaged, tempers will flare.
But don’t let that deter you from engaging in honest, civil conversation with people who hold different opinions than you do. Look beneath the surface level to try to understand the underlying need that drives the opinion. “I feel the Bern” might really translate to: “I’ve got five kids and no idea how I’m going to get them through college.” Let your conversation dwell on the forward progress, not the platitudes. Dig a little deeper and you might find common ground. Dig deeper still and you may be able to offer encouragement, hope and maybe even some help.