Saturday, March 10, 2007

Pursuing Happiness

(H/T: Mrs. Woody, who has never once failed to make me happy!)

(Note: My apologies to those who found this post when you were, in fact, looking for reviews of "The Pursuit of Happyness." I don't talk about the movie starring Will Smith in this or any other post. I haven't even seen the movie yet. I'd like to, but we'll probably rent it sometime soon.)

Dennis Prager defines "happiness" over at I heartily suggest you read the entire article. He does a beautiful job of distinguishing between happiness and pleasure, and makes one wonder just why so many people mistake the one (pleasure) for the other (happiness).

One of the hardest paradoxes in modern cultural debate is the idea that the men who framed the constitution of this nation knew exactly what they were saying when they indicated that one of our most basic, sacred rights is the "pursuit of happiness." I call it a paradox because, in today's world, far too many people confuse the pursuit of happiness with the attainment of happiness. In fact, the two are not at all equivalent.

As I watch my son mature into adulthood (only the law makes him an "adult," I'm afraid - he still has a ways to go in my view) I see the effects of an entitlement culture already in his thought processes. If (the thinking goes) I am unhappy, for whatever reasons or circumstances, then someone owes me. He cannot understand why he should not be allowed to indulge in whatever vice or self-destructive activity he currently favors without having to suffer some sort of consequence. In the entitlement culture there should be no consequences for hedonism. If he believes drinking should make him happy, then we (the nebulous "we" always referred to in progressive thought) owe it to him to allow him that pleasure.

In fact, the only person who can be truly responsible for his happiness is himself. If anyone "owes" him anything, he does. This is the essence of the "pursuit of happiness." It is also anaethemic thinking to a young person who wants to live the life of a party animal.

These are the same forces that perpetuate the myth of "political correctness." Political correctness draws its power from those who believe that it is our sacred right never to be offended for any reason. This thinking is illogical in the extreme. If any one individual or group has the power to limit what we may say in any arena, then the very First Amendment that those same individuals or groups claim to cherish becomes, in fact and deed, null and void. There has never been a constitutional guarantee that we will pass through this life having never been offended by something someone said or did. We have only the guarantee that we will be allowed to pursue our own happiness in spite of those offenses.

I once had a co-worker who was the quintessential bachelor of the 90's. Every Monday he would regale me with his tales of bar-hopping and romantic conquests over the previous weekend. He really wanted to sell me on the idea that he was of all men most happy in his life. Yet what he had could hardly be classified as "happiness." He was single and seemed to have tremendous difficulty with relationships. He drank probably enough to be classified as an alcoholic, and it was probably a miracle of statistical averages that the man never was arrested for DUI. He had talent and training as a concert pianist, yet had trouble achieving any real measure of success as a pianist. Happy? Only in his self-justifications. What he had was the freedom to pursue any number of pleasures, but lacked the character to truly pursue a course leading to happiness.

Consider my own life. I have married twice. My first marriage ended for various reasons with a healthy heaping of issues on both sides. But I still find happiness in my two children from that marriage; even in the aforementioned son, who also has contributed to the graying around my temples. My second marriage has been a match made in heaven. We are not wealthy people, but neither are we living in poverty. We have a common love for and grounding in our religious beliefs, and we are passing those beliefs along to our own two children. I have never once been bar-hopping in my entire life, nor even so much as sipped an alcoholic beverage (not counting some cough medicines). I have never smoked. Do I feel deprived? What a silly question. Do I consider myself to be happy? Absolutely. Compared with my former co-worker, is there anything that I am missing in life? Probably. Is there any one of those things that I need in order to be happy?

Not one.

If, as Dennis indicates, I have a moral obligation to be happy, then I feel justified with my life to date. Am I happy every hour of every day? Of course not. The pursuit of happiness means that there will be times in my life when sadness intrudes, or tragedy intervenes. But a happy person is one who can meet such challenges and overcome them. When my wife's mother passed away this winter, a great sadness entered our lives. Two months later we still grieve, but we also remember that we are happy in general. Do we still miss Mom? We do, and we're not ashamed to shed tears when those feelings are near. But we find happiness in the thought - in the belief - that we will see her again.

Of course challenges will always exist. This will be especially true of the next eighteen months, when our pursuit of happiness will be tested to its uttermost limits.

But then the election will finally be over. Happiness will return, if only because the windbags will go away for a couple of years.

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