Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Life, Liberty, Happiness and the Absence of the Pursuit

Last year on the Fourth of July, I saw a woman wearing a bedazzled shirt that spelled out three words: Life, Liberty, HappinessBorrowed from the Declaration of Independence, the words were (of course) colored in red, white and blue.

The shirt was cute -- patriotic, playful -- but upon reading those three words I considered two that were noticeably missing: "pursuit of." Though the omission was obviously for the art of the shirt, I read it to be a sign of the times. 

The founding fathers knew then, as we should now, that happiness is not a God-given right. If anything, it is a lucky find.

Yet ours is a time of instantaneous gratification. If you don't believe me, just watch someone's face light up when they receive a new "Like" or RT or +1. We can also order our entertainment on-demand, pick-up dates from websites and have gourmet meals delivered in 30 minutes or less. In short, we've grown accustomed to ordering and controlling our happiness. 

The pursuit is also lost in the stories we tell ourselves. You can achieve anything you dream of! You're special! You can have it all! But none of that comes without a lot of work, a bit of misery and some sacrifices -- things that make us decidedly unhappy and uncomfortable.  

I see the consequences of this playing out in my generation, as my peers and I stumble around expecting happiness. Scores of college students who majored in cool subjects that don't immediately lend to career paths are now drowning in debt and moving home. Others, like me and 45% of my business school classmates, changed jobs within the first year of graduation, citing a need to be more fulfilled.

Of course we should have our eye on happiness. Our technological and sociological achievements should be celebrated. Yet I worry we are trying to rush ahead to the end goal at the expense of the pursuit and, with it, are losing the value of patience.

Some of my darkest times are responsible for my greatest happiness. For how much greater is happiness when it has alluded you? How much more do you grow when you are tested? Being unhappy has made me fight for it and pushed me to take more risks.  Our Founding Fathers assured us that pursuit. 

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance, and we are free to chase it. We are free to find it. 

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