An unalienable right we know by heart. “The pursuit of happiness.” But do we know it? For many it has become so rote that we no longer reflect on what it really means to us.
Is it the pursuit that is our right? Is it the happiness? What is pursuit? What is happiness? What is a right? What is right?
In my head, I am hearing, “Can I be real a second? Tell the people how I feel a second?” (From Hamilton again.)
Let’s be real. Let’s explore together. What is this happiness we are pursuing?
Yes, the original declaration of these rights omitted women, was not extended in its day to black or indigenous peoples let alone LGBTQ+ people, and was authored and signed by slave-owning elites. Maybe some of us don’t even think the declaration is relevant to us. Still, it’s baked into this country, this democracy, our psyches, our neurons. Arguably, unjust pursuit of a warped notion of happiness is what perpetuated (and perpetuates) these hypocrisies.
So again, what is this happiness we are pursuing?
Every day I feel my heart sending this refrain, “May all beings live in health, peace and happiness, free from hatred and suffering.” Over and over. All beings. Happiness.
And to you now, “May you live in health, peace and happiness, free from hatred and suffering.”
Even as they bring us to our knees, trying times like these clarify and crystallize what this happiness is that we seek, bringing into sharpest relief the divergence between a true, deep happiness and a shallow, illusory one.
What’s more, times like these put us in touch with the nature of our pursuits, often revealing whether the means are worthy of the ends. Are these the pursuits that will yield the Happiness … and what about the Life and Liberty? And what if these are not the pursuits that will do so but they still feel good, what then?
While the rights may be unalienable, we are called upon to wield them wisely, mindfully.
Viktor Frankl says, “It’s not the load that wears us down, it’s how we carry it.” What a beautiful invitation to simply look at how we are carrying our load. Can we carry it in a way that conditions peace and happiness for all?
What is the truth of what we are thinking, believing, intending, saying, and doing? Will it shape a wholesome happiness for ourselves and others? Poet Naomi Shihab Nye offers a rendition of wholesome happiness this way in her poem So Much Happiness.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way …
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known
This is the happiness my heart sends you each day, the kind that doesn’t need anything, that flows out of you into everything you touch. This is the pursuit and the happiness.
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