Pursuit of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence starts by listing three critical human rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I’ve always found the way those three are written to be interesting.  Life and liberty are a given, you have to have them; but happiness is different.  The Declaration doesn’t say we must have happiness; it says we must be able to pursue happiness.  When I am not busy reading the latest sleep aide from the FASB or playing Dr. No at work by telling people they can’t account for the transaction the way they would like because it violates GAAP, I wonder why our nation’s founders didn’t just list happiness as a right.  OK, I think about a lot of other stuff too, but this is one of the things I’ve been thinking about recently.

I think there are several reasons, but a couple that come to mind include that there are as many definitions of happiness as there are people, and happiness is never a permanent state.  But also buried in the difference between life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the fact that life and liberty are dependent on the results of the external world, but happiness is not.  The best we can do from an external perspective is to give people the ability to seek, or as our founders put it, pursue happiness.

Shawn Achor has an excellent Ted Talk on happiness here. It may be the best 12.5 minutes you spend this week.

Shawn lists five ways you can change your outlook on life.  One of the best and easiest is the “three gratitudes.”  He asks you to think of three things you are grateful for and why each day for 21 days while you brush your teeth in the morning before getting on with the day.  Two keys, it has to be different things each day and even more important you have to think about why you are grateful for those things.  For example, I am grateful for the Wright brothers who were the fathers of the airplane.  Without them I would not be able to hop on a plane to see my daughter in New York, or fly to China to see the breathtaking views of the Great Wall.  In fact, without them I would have never gone on a exchange trip to Japan after I graduated high school and meet the woman who turned out to be my wife of 28 years.

If you doubt me, my suggestion is to try it anyway.  What is the worse that could happen – at least you’ll make your dentist happy.


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