I watched as my 4-year-old daughter conquered a small challenge earlier this week, as she diligently put forth efforts to learn to write.
I watched as she wrote her name without any help. This seemingly small accomplishment brought forth the kind of pride that an adult would feel after completing a marathon for the first time.
She had written her own name many times before, but she always had her mother, me or a caring teacher coaching her. Although I was with her as she wrote her name on a birthday card for a friend, I played no part in her effort. She did it all by herself.
As she gleefully held up her work to share the triumph with me, I realized her happiness stemmed from having pursued the challenge for months.
If she had simply been able to write her name the first time she tried without difficulty, there would have been no thrill.
It was not the final victory that prepared her for excitement of accomplishment. It was the pursuit.
I heard a speaker point out that the Founding Fathers had the wisdom to declare that our inalienable rights endowed upon us by our creator consist of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The speaker noted that happiness itself is not a right. It is also something that can never be conveyed from a government or another person.
If a person chooses to be miserable, there is no way happiness can be provided.
People can choose to be miserable in many ways. Harboring a feeling of injustice, maintaining bitterness for being wronged in some way, as well as keeping a perpetual focus on all that is unfortunate and imperfect in the world, are all ways that we concentrate our energy on amplifying the negative.
There is a lot of truth in a joke that states, “You know what the pessimist said when he visited the optimist club?
“You people just don’t know how miserable you really are.”
Even though I often reflect on those words quoted in the Declaration of Independence, in a very small way I choose to reinterpret the “pursuit of happiness” part.
I don’t think a person can actually pursue happiness with much success.
From my observation, the people who attain the greatest happiness are those who choose to serve others in some way and seek to improve their circumstances, relationships and themselves.
People who are intent on pursuing happiness for happiness’ sake often fall for schemes that offer to provide a feeling of joy. They end up thinking they would be happy if situations were only different.
It’s easy to focus on a problem and choose to think that is the reason we are not happy. This is especially true if the problem is a glaring fault of another.
This concept is often used artfully by politicians. Their message is frequently focused on an opponent’s shortcomings. The implication is that you’re not happy because of a politician’s opponent.
This is why we so willingly watch newscasts that amplify the worst of American culture.
Seeing other people behave badly doesn’t make us happy, but it paints a rosier picture of our own circumstances by comparison. We feel better by observing someone else acting more stupidly than ourselves.
If you pay attention to people who are truly happy, they don’t have much time to spend on celebrating the weaknesses of others. They are too busy taking steps to improve their own lives or helping someone else.
If you really want to be happy, get busy making the world a better place for everyone.