In the Declaration of Independence, the second paragraph states that all individuals “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It is interesting to note that these three named rights are “among” the many unnamed, inborn and inseparable, or natural Rights belonging to each person.
In 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote The Declaration of Independence for the Continental Congress of the 13 Colonies and addressed it to the King of England. It announced our intention to form a free nation separate from England and contained the philosophical foundations for liberty and individual rights. And, it detailed how the king had abused our rights in the colonies.
Those “certain unalienable Rights” mentioned are known as Natural Rights. U-S-History.com says this, “Political theorists since the time of the ancient Greeks have argued in support of the existence of natural rights, meaning those rights that men possessed as a gift from nature (or God) before the formation of governments. Most scholars hold that those rights belong equally to all men (people) at birth and cannot be taken away.” Any “right” that requires the loss of rights even temporarily for another person is not a Natural Right.
Jefferson’s original words were “Life, Liberty, and Property,” by which Jefferson meant that having the right to own property is fundamental to being free enough to pursue one’s happiness. But Adams and Franklin argued against the use of the word “Property” because it seemed too dry and emotionless for the beginning of such a momentous declaration. They settled on a phrase that draws the mind to the resulting freedoms that property ownership yields instead of the right itself.
So, what does it mean for an individual to pursue happiness? Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute says that the four sources of happiness in our lives are Faith, Family, Friendship, and Work.
Faith is an individual’s belief structure, whether or not it includes a Supreme Being. It is about knowing that there are things you don’t know, if or how you search for new knowledge, and how you deal with the unknown. Pursuing happiness through faith is having the freedom to choose the methods by which you will seek knowledge and truth, examples being a holy book, a holy spirit, or “the scientific method.” Ultimately, it is about what you think of as your place in the grand scheme of things and your freedom to speak openly about matters such as these.
Family includes not only blood relatives, but those we bring into the family by marriage, commitment, or adoption. Family is the deep-seated, ever-growing bond of love between people who are related by blood or by choice. The freedom to pursue happiness through family must include, by its very nature, the freedom of mature and consenting individuals to create a family by choice, without interference and without regard to whether it appears to be traditional or atypical. You either have the freedom to create and enjoy your family, or you do not.
Friendship has many levels from the tried and true, long-term “best friends” all the way to simple acquaintanceship, and usually plays a different role in your pursuit of happiness than does family. But the most happiness is to be gained by the development of friendship toward that “best friend” status. Friendship can continue to develop and may become more like family over time.
Work: One may pursue happiness in the kind of work chosen, like a hobby, dream, or passion turned into a business opportunity, or in a choice to help others through work in a church or charity, social work or other forms of public service. Also, work may be only a means to an end, like having a tolerable job that pays well enough to pursue a passion when not working. For many, work also provides a sense of self-worth. Do not underestimate the role played in the human psyche by the ability to support oneself and loved ones as a source of personal pride and accomplishment. We do not have the Right to be given a job, and few of us would be happy with a job chosen for us by some hack bureaucrat. But, neither should there be any legal restrictions on seeking the work we want, based on our experience, capability, and potential.
I believe that there is a fifth source of happiness, but Arthur Brooks tends to include it in each of the other four to varying degrees, and that is Love. We Pursue Happiness in Love in the choice and pursuit of a spouse, in the family connections we maintain, or in the friendships we cultivate. In general, it is not only the love others have for us, but the love we show and give to others that gives our lives meaning and happiness.
These sources of happiness naturally change as time advances, and each decision can affect our happiness sometimes throughout the remainder of our lives. There are also things affecting our happiness that we have little or no control of, like the autonomous decisions of others pursuing their happiness, social and political changes, ageism and other “isms,” and of course, illness and death.
A 75-year Harvard study on happiness in life found that the happiest people have reliable and strong relationships with a spouse, relatives, friends, and the community. The happiest people tend to replace lost relationships with new friends and tend to lean into these relationships (to be proactive in finding and developing good relationships).
The “pursuit of happiness” is an integral part of our natural right to own property, but it does not give us the right to demand happiness in any form from other people. Our rights exist in the freedom to seek out, to pursue, and to develop the things that make us happy. Good government serves The People best only when it protects and defends our right to pursue happiness.