s an American, I love that one of my country’s founding documents, The Declaration of Independence, boldly claims as unalienable rights “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We Americans have a solemn duty to honor the sacrifices of those who fought to secure our liberty, and we ought to take it seriously that people died explicitly to make it possible for us to pursue happiness. But such sacrifices were not exclusive to America’s founders. Mothers and fathers in all countries, in all eras, have struggled to improve the world they passed to their offspring. The potential for happiness is their gift to us, a luxury many of them did not themselves enjoy. To ignore their gift smacks of ingratitude.
The “merrily dancing ape” philosophy on happiness is based on recent advances in psychology but has its roots in ancient philosophies. The element of mindfulness comes from Buddhism and stoicism (e.g. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius), and the element of acceptance comes from Taoism.
Not everybody agrees that happiness is possible to attain or is worth attaining. Some think happiness is too self-centered and shallow a goal. I believe firmly that it is possible, vital, and profound. Happiness is a gift we must be gracious enough to receive. To refuse the gift is not selfless, it’s snobby and dumb. Selflessness is pointless without happiness. A world where the gift of happiness cannot be received (or is refused) is a world where generosity is meaningless.
Our existence is improbable. We are lucky and privileged to be in this wonderful universe, if just for a short while. We must allow the universe to please us.
But what really is happiness? First we must define the term.