Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thoughts on the U.S. Declaration of Independence

I'm going to digress from the discusion trend of the last few posts, since Independence Day is coming soon.
I had a look at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence's text, specifically:

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

I'm thinking - is happiness really something worthwhile pursuing, and, more specifically, is this something that the U.S. government should protect as an unalienable right? Happiness is really a state of mind. Yes, life and liberty certainly should be protected and guaranteed by the government. And, there should be equality and a "standard" definition of life and liberty. When people are oppressed and they are not free to make even basic decisions, then they are slaves to someone or something. But happiness has no equal standard definition. My happiness is not yours, so how can the government set an equal standard of what that is?

Oh, I know that the text of the Declaration does not state that you have the right to be happy. It just states that you have the right to pursue being happy. But, when I consider how many things change constantly in my own small environment as well as within the bigger scope of the world, wouldn't it be better if I learned to be happy with the things I have, with what I am now? Shouldn't that be more of a person's immediate goal than spending so much time and effort pursuing some form of happiness?

I think part of the problem is that "happiness" is viewed externally rather than internally. What I mean by that is that we define our own happiness by viewing others. It's the "Keep up with the Jones" mentality. We want what other people have, and we define our happiness by that standard. View a typical TV ad (or a newspaper / magazine ad.) Buy this car because everyone else has it. Few of my friends own convertibles, BTW. Most of them own SUVs or mini-vans. When I was younger, prior to the minvan, most of my friends' parents owned the clunky station wagon that had a few dents and a half-busted bumper. The point is, that these cars worked fine for them, and they were happy with what they had.

I think a large part of the U.S. founding principles was based on the Ten Commandments (at least some of them!) The last commandment is, "Do not covet." So, if you define happiness by competing with your neighbors' and friends' property; desiring what they have; even being envious of what they have - aren't you disobeying this commandment? So, to return to that unalienable right, do we really want a society that pursues this concept?

If I want to find something to pursue, I'd rather pursue peace. I won't get into a definition of what real "peace" is, here. That's something for a different blog post. But, the point is that a fundamental of peace already incorporates the concept of happiness, namely being happy with what I already have, what God has given me, and being happy, most of all to be in one of the greatest countries in the world - one that protects and promotes life and liberty - the United States. And, if you don't think that alone should be reason enough to be happy, look at about 50% of the world's countries and you can see how many people live in fear, are oppressed, and have no freedoms at all.

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