July 4 is not only the birthday of our independence as the United States of America. It is the day we declared to the world:
“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.”
No one had ever said it out loud before. Historically there had been many a treatise written and wars won and lost about the right to live, and the right to freedom, but the right to pursue happiness? Unprecedented– and so typically American.
Declaring it is one thing. Making it so is quite another matter. Happiness tends to elude our pursuit.
As the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, born on July 4, wrote:
“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
Americans pay a steep price in our noisy and pushy pursuit of happiness. Perhaps it is the larger mortgage for a bigger house, a wider flat screen TV, the perfect antidepressant medication or the best recreational substance money can buy, or the tank of gas that will carry us just a little farther down the road in our big trucks, RVs and SUVs. We try to buy our way to happiness with our charge cards maxed out and find ourselves in a deeper debt pit, putting our life and liberty in serious jeopardy. Even the government itself, home of the brave and the free, has never been so deep in deficit spending.
Happiness is not purchased with plastic, but is bought through individual personal sacrifice, making sure others have what they need before we ourselves rest easy. It is the selfish pursuit of selflessness. And that is exactly why it is so elusive because inalienable rights don’t come naturally–they must be fought for and then preserved daily.
Much blood has been shed by Americans to guarantee Life and Liberty for others, including citizens of other countries. If the price paid through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives has resulted in more happiness, why do we still seem so unsatisfied and miserable?
Perhaps we have it backward, as Hawthorne suggests. We can’t pursue happiness; it will find us when we least expect it.
Happiness certainly won’t be found in the fireworks that will be blown up today, or the food consumed, or the free flowing alcohol. It will be in the quiet moment of realization that we are truly blessed by this incredible place to live and raise our children, and that we need to work harder than ever to make it even better. We will not be free until we stop allowing our appetites to dictate how we live our lives, but realize true freedom comes when we do what ought to be done to preserve that freedom for future generations.
At that moment, in a silent prayer of thanks to the Creator addressed in our Declaration of Independence, can we know the Happiness that pursues us when we live in a forward thinking spirit of gratitude and sacrifice.
Happiness touches us, like a butterfly, in a moment of grace.
And only then, can we make it so.