While the greeting, “Happy New Year,” rolls off the tongue quite naturally this time of year, it is worth considering what, in fact, constitutes actual happiness in a world that is often at odds with authentic human flourishing.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence starts off with an appeal to happiness that seems to suggest that it is a good everyone has a right to pursue.
Here’s the quote:
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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Clearly, happiness is not some subjective state of mind, passing fancy or impulsive indulgence that may bring about momentary titillation and amusement. Rather, it is a state of being that all people have a God-given right to pursue without hindrance from an unjust and tyrannical government.
If the right to pursue happiness is truly endowed by our Creator – and hence inalienable – it suggests that authentic happiness is in harmony with the natural moral laws that govern the universe. Governments can only uphold or violate this right – they cannot remove it, because they did not invent it.
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While the “pursuit of happiness” has certainly been understood as including the expenditure of one’s energies in securing the necessary material goods that provide for general wellbeing, it encompasses a much greater moral and religious backbone.
Pursuing a pseudo “happiness” – unmoored from God and the natural moral law – is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when enshrining this fundamental right, which no government can ever alienate us from.
Understood in this context, it is our right, and therefore our duty, to seek and advance a morally grounded happiness that harmonizes with our Creator’s designs for human life.
May 2024 truly be a “Happy New Year!”
The views expressed here are those of the author.