The Pursuit of Happiness

One of my daughters told me something yesterday that I thought was really profound. She said that in America, we feel that we have a right to be happy. After all, our Declaration of Independence states that we have an “unalienable right” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But what we forget, said my daughter, is the pursuit part. We’re so enamored of our rights that when we’re not happy, we think the universe/society/God has failed to come through as it should. We mope and complain.

Instead, if we’re not happy, then we should pursue happiness. That’s what we have a right to: the pursuit.

This came up for my daughter as she was having a conversation with a young man who had quit school and was stuck in a boring, dead-end job. He was clearly not happy. She asked him what would make him happy. He said he had no idea. “What are you passionate about?” asked my daughter. “I have no freakin’ idea,” he said again.

She made the obvious but important observation that if he didn’t at least try some new things, his life in his late 20’s would be just as dull as it is now, in his early 20’s.

Her encouragement to the young man is good advice for all of us. If you’re not happy, then pursue happiness. If you don’t know where to find it, trying things at random will give you a better chance than doing nothing.

I have another daughter who was quite depressed in her early adolescence. “Every day is worse than the last,” she told me. Out of the blue, a neighbor gave her a video of Korean pop music. (Talk about random!) Right away, all of my daughter’s circuits lit up. Suddenly, she had found her passion. She pursued it by finding a student-exchange program with Rotary International and then more or less crashed a meeting of our local Rotary chapter to ask if she could become an exchange student. She wrote to a Rotarian in South Korea to inquire about opportunities. She studied Korean on her own for a year and a half. She attended a Korean church 40 minutes away, and took Korean lessons there. She took Tae Kwondo lessons to absorb  even more of the culture. As I write this, she is an exchange student in South Korea, the first stage of pursuing her dream of becoming a performing artist there. She did this all on her own. (All I did was act as taxi driver!) I don’t know how her life will turn out, but I do know that she will continue to pursue her passions and happiness, no matter what it takes. That’s what I’m talking about!

If you’re not happy, try something different. If you have no idea what to try, random is better than nothing. Your best chance is probably something that serves others. But do something! Pursuing happiness is your right. Use it!

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