July 4 is not just the birthday of our independence as the United States of America. It is the day we declared to the world that “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, utterly American…
Declaring it is one thing. Making it so is quite another matter. Happiness eludes the pursuit for most.
As 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.”
We Americans pay a steep price in our noisy and pushy pursuit of happiness. Perhaps it is the larger mortgage for that bigger house, the wider flat screen TV, the perfect antidepressant medication or recreational substance, 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.
There can be no true happiness until we ensure all Americans, indeed all world citizens, are given their best chance at Life itself–free of disease, of starvation, of homelessness, of genocide.
There can be no true happiness until we ensure all Americans, indeed all world citizens, know the freedom of true liberty– free of tyranny, of oppression and poverty, of war and destruction.
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, daily.
Much blood has been shed by Americans to guarantee Life and Liberty for others, including citizens of other countries. Has the price paid through the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives resulted in more happiness for the rest of us? Perhaps we have it backward, as Hawthorne suggests. We can’t pursue happiness; it will find us when we least expect it.
Happiness 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 be free, given opportunity to raise our children in such a place, and that we need to work harder than ever to make it even better. 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 spirit of gratitude and sacrifice.
It touches us, like a butterfly, in a moment of grace.
And only then, can we make it so.