There’s one part of Lulu Lemon’s “manifesto” that leaves me feeling more discouraged than inspired, though. The saying says, “The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.” I think I understand where the Lulu team is coming from–I agree we could all learn to be a little more content and grateful right where we are. Another Better Business Babe wrote a heartfelt and transparent post that addresses the very valuable and worthwhile habit of gratitude. On the other hand, I am saddened that Lulu Lemon and many Americans are missing the meaning behind “the pursuit of happiness.”
The reason it bothers me that the meaning of the phrase may have been lost is because I believe if we do not come to understand and appreciate our roots as a nation, we will eventually lose those roots and the unique freedoms that are inseparable from them. The cliche, “you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone” can be true! I actually started a 501(c)3 based on this idea because I believe so passionately about it.
Since International Happy Day just passed, I thought it would be a good time to address the ideas behind the Pursuit of Happiness. The phrase, “pursuit of happiness” is most popularly known from the intro to the Declaration of Independence,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Early Americans were not advocating for unadulterated pursuit of pleasure, nor the Machiavellian, Enron-style idea of “getting yours” no matter who you have to step on to get there. Living that way may seem productive for a time, but in the end leads to emptiness (and, in a free society governed by the rule of law, it almost inevitably ends up with some sort of legal punishment in the end–ask Bernie Madoff how he’s enjoying his 150 year jail sentence). Rather, the American founders believed that true happiness is intertwined in virtue.
As George Washington said, the tie between virtue and happiness is inseparable. Unbridled pursuit of selfish desires without a higher purpose, will lead to demise. The opposite is also true: honesty leads to prosperity, as Washington put it. This can be said for individuals but also for greater groups of individuals–cities, nations, cultures.
The concept that virtue and happiness are interlinked is not something the American Founders created themselves. They adopted it from from their preceptor, Aristotle and from themes in the Bible. It’s repeated throughout American history:
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prescribed how the American colonies should expand their territory westward. It reads “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged”
George Washington also reiterated the belief when he said in his farewell address,
“Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity (happiness) of a nation with its virtue?“
The Founders also weren’t saying that all Americans had an inalienable right to happiness, but rather a right to pursue happiness. Happiness isn’t inherent, but something we have the right to work towards. Happiness looks different and varies from person to person. What makes me happy may make someone else miserable and vice versa. Again, gratitude comes in very handy when pursuing happiness. Thanking Providence for freedom and the nation’s prosperity is something we see the founding fathers did regularly in their addresses to the nation. To understand how gratitude can apply to us today, see the blog post I mentioned earlier for one woman’s honest perspective on thankfulness.
So, in conclusion, I guess the lululemon bag is right. The pursuit of happiness is the root of all unhappiness if the pursuit of happiness is not related to a greater good. The pursuit of happiness as the creators of this nation understood it, though, is a beautiful thing.
What do you think? Have you observed the negative effects of selfish ambition that lacked virtue and character? Have you observed the benefits of recognizing the tie between virtue and happiness? In your or someone else’s life, or in a broader sense in our culture?
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