This post was co-authored by Michael Foster
Near the top of the Declaration of Independence are some key words that have left a lasting impact. These words state that every citizen has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Looking back to the time period when this document was written, it's clear how the insertion of these words was a brilliant choice of concepts to include in this founding document, which has been studied and debated since it was composed.
We're already alive if we are capable of reading the words "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," so yeah, that one seems to be a given. But wait. Life, as in the good life? Life as in reaching for your dreams? Life, as in continually growing and adding great things to the world you're living in?
Liberty is a tricky one too. Liberty to do what exactly? Here you go, have a cup of liberty, filled to the brim. No, wait, that's too much. We actually meant a thimble full. Liberty to do, be, strive for and keep figuring out what in the whole wide world one wants to do with this wondrous gift of liberty.
The third one is the most open to interpretation. The pursuit of happiness. Really? I can pursue, go on a quest for, chase after, keep on struggling to locate happiness? Thanks Declaration. Here's why this phrase has been problematic for over 200 years: Every individual defines this vague concept with wildly different interpretations. There's a good chance your pursuit of happiness isn't going be my pursuit of happiness. Not back then, and certainly not in the modern world of the divided states of America. Think of just a few of the variables at work here. Differences in age, socio-economic factors, race, religion, politics and so on. Put a few of these variables in a blender and serve them up to the community at large. What makes every person in your household happy? How about your neighborhood? The city you live in? You won't see any agreement once you move away from one or two people who are kind of sure about you and your likes and dislikes.
What our culture wants us to believe is that by pursuing money, wealth, and fame... we'll eventually reach happiness. Maybe this cultural construct was there from the start, and is the underlying message in our founding documents. Enough money delivers peace of mind, contentment, and the ability to do things you couldn't accomplish otherwise. To think that a room full of money equals the elusive goal of happiness is a powerful concept, but it's just as accurate as saying you'll always be happy if you live in the right neighborhood in the perfect city, meet the ideal partner, or raise genius kids. Happiness will occur at some point in all our lives. Whether it comes by chasing after it or just shows up on your doorstep one afternoon with a suitcase full of daydreams and confetti is another matter altogether.
What a grand gesture. The pursuit of happiness -- codified into the founding document of a newly emerging nation. Happiness as an ideal to reach for and maybe not ever attain, but these Colonial founders at least wanted to plant the idea. Happiness should be pursued. Our culture promotes the collection of things that can be purchased as a way of pursuing happiness. But over the previous several decades, pursuing ever greater material possessions has come at a great cost, and served mostly to take away life and liberty. Just talk to anyone with a skyrocketing credit card debt or a home mortgage that's currently underwater.
What if the way to pursue happiness had been more defined and expanded, in the form of further important human concepts to pursue? What if they had told us to pursue other things?
- How about pursuing truth?
None of the above ideas are codified into the declaration. We were given the green light to chase after happiness, wherever it may lead. Is it time to add some more specific ideas, ones that directly relate to our times? Should we update our founding documents? Revise them and add new components in the spirit of reinvention. Happiness is a fine aim, in a general sense, under most circumstances. And yet, there are many other states of being and aims people strive for during the course of their lives. Maybe it's time to filter in a wider selection of the highest qualities that make up the whole of human experience.
In the technology-driven culture we inhabit, we could certainly use several additions to the Bill of Rights, such as insuring the Internet is kept free and open for all. And it's no longer difficult to imagine a world in the near future where winner take all capitalism is viewed as an antiquated idea, like communism or feudalism. Regardless, it's past time to reinvent our philosophies and social contracts to better reflect the world we live in now, and the world we want those who come after us to live in.
The writing team of Smith and Foster comes from an extensive background of New Media content creation, in both the written and visual content creation side of the web. They are established professionals with writing and art backgrounds, unique perspectives on culture, and two diverse and similar backgrounds.