tMr. Declaration of Independence promise “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But if you’re lucky enough to live in states like Virginia, New Hampshire, Vermont state, New shirt, Massachusettsand a few others, yours is even better: the 18th-century constitutions of all these states state not only the right to the pursuit of happiness, but the right to achieve it.
Of course, boasting about happiness meant nothing to the enslaved or the natives. And there were others—from those struggling on the margins to women trapped in abusive marriages—who at the time could not imagine happiness. Today we quickly identify those shortcomings, pointing out where the founders, though visionary, went blind. However, even as many people have worked hard to extend rights more widely and raise expectations in the process, we still miss some of the essential aspects of happiness that the founders had. set up clearly thought of.
First, consider that while limiting their views, the founders certainly set expectations for many, and that in itself was revolutionary. For most people, happiness is not seen as something that can be trusted or controlled. Where life is difficult and unpredictable, and the world and its ways are uncertain, suffering is the norm. The best one can hope for is to get through it relatively unscathed.
Today, if you feel your right to happiness is denied, you can make lawyer. But before you take your case to court, you should think about how the founders conceived of happiness—and the best way to find happiness for yourself. For in many ways, Americans have struggled with that notion since the Declaration was signed.
To go back to the source, consider the word happiness itself, which in every Indo-European language is derived from luck: for example, the English word happiness is derived from the Old Norse word happy, exactly—lucky. Such wisdom was once widely accepted. Solon, the great Athenian statesman, known as one of the wisest of ancient Greece, exclaimed: “No man is called happy until he is dead. He and the others know that the gods are fickle and that man’s fortunes are dangerous, even for the luckiest. For their part, Christians traditionally view happiness as the heavenly reward for God’s chosen people who endure their earthly journey with holiness and faith. But as for the pilgrimage, we should have no illusions: the world is a valley of tears. Saint Augustine summarize it: “True happiness . . . is unattainable in our present life.”
It is a belief that the founders, like other groups of the 18th century, including the Enlightenment Christians, bluntly challenged. Neither a vengeful God nor the arrows of excessive luck can stand in the way of man’s pursuit of satisfaction. The world is in accord with our understanding and control, and with foresight and planning we can create our happiness in it.
The benevolent Creator smiles upon our efforts to be happy in this life as well as the next.
But if religion permits the pursuit of happiness, man must ensure it. That task requires both public and private components. Indeed, the founders conceived of “the science of government” as what John Adams called it “the science of social happiness.” In short, just as individuals have a right to pursue happiness, governments have a duty to help provide it.
Longtime friend of Adams and political nemesis James Madison fully agreed. “Government subjects,” he declared in “Confederation 62,” is “the happiness of the people”.
The best way to start ensuring that happiness is to start with safety itself. The founders often associated happiness with security, arguing that individuals must be protected from lawlessness and anarchy, as well as from tyranny and predatory predators. power, to develop their inherent rights to both freedom and enjoyment of life.
And how to enjoy the best? It’s largely a person’s personal business. But the founders still have strong thoughts on the matter. On the one hand, they believe that enjoyment entails “acquiring and owning property”. They never equate wealth with happiness, but they see one as a means of the other, and it is right for them to do so. Wealth is not only a buffer against unhappiness, but in the form of income and wealth, it is also correlated with satisfied life. Although money cannot directly buy happiness, on average you happier with it rather than not.
Modern researchers have discovered that money is only one part of the happiness picture. The founders understand this. “Where does the happiness of a rational being lie?” Benjamin Franklin asked in 1732 at the Leather Apron Club, the Friday night discussion group he had led for decades. “When there is a sound mind, a healthy body, complete with the necessities and comforts of life, with the favor of God and the love of man.” Note that he said full, Not redundancy. And to gain God’s grace and the love of humanity, one must think of doing good not only for oneself but also for others – for family, for friends, for society as a whole. In fact, private and shared happiness always go hand in hand.
The danger of forgetting all this was very early on. In the 1830s, the one-of-a-kind observer of American democracy, French aristocrat, historian, and philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, warning in Democracy in America that although “nobody could work harder to be happy,” Americans always seem to be restless in the midst of their affluence — and often a little sad. The danger, he sees, is that a preference for personal pleasures risks turning Americans inward, putting them at odds with each other and leading them astray.
Since then, this danger has been mentioned again and again, highlighting the nagging tension in American democracy between the pursuit of individual happiness and the well-being of the people. Arguably the tension has never been greater than it is today, as isolation, inequality and social rifts appear daily in our headlines and lives. Recent survey data shows that Period Spending by Americans with others, including friends, is falling. It’s hard to get along, even on social media, when you’re alone.
There is no easy solution. But it is helpful to keep in mind that the nation’s architects conceived of private and public happiness together, i.e. a sound mind, a healthy body, necessities, and comfort. of our compatriots is as important as our own.
If we want to fully exercise our right not only to pursue happiness but to achieve it, then we should keep that fundamental wisdom in mind.
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