In Pursuit of Happiness

The United States’ Declaration of Independence holds that all people possess the unalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I learned this in school, and then somewhere along the line I got the idea that to pursue happiness was somehow selfish or shallow. But the more I study and work with happiness, the more I know that Thomas Jefferson was really onto something.

Fast forward to my beach read this summer: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. I’m going to spare you my review – what I admired about the book and what annoyed me – and instead share the following excerpt in which Gilbert writes about the teachings of her Guru (yes, she has a guru) regarding happiness:

“….people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t you will leak away your innate contentment.”

Happiness must be pursued, (Gilbert took her quest all the way around the globe), and the Founding Fathers recognized that the right to pursue happiness represented both an individual and a public good. To be happy is neither selfish nor shallow, but rather a fundamental expression of what it is to be human, as well as a benefit to society.

Would you like to join me in pursuit of happiness? I’ll be writing more about it, so stay tuned.