Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pursuit of Happiness


The pursuit of happiness, as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, had a meaning that is lost on moderns. At the time that it was written, it did not mean pursuit of pleasure, as some of the current generation suppose it to be.

Pursuit of happiness meant, among other things, the endeavor of a man to have his own family and his own business, and to worship God without hindrance from anyone who would oppress us or thwart us in this.

In Jane Austen's novels, happiness referred to the felicity that a loving marriage would bring to an entire family, not just the couple.

Pursuit of happiness is not exactly the attainment of happiness. If you've ever set a goal to make or do something, you know that it was far more enjoyable int he steps to achieve that goal than in actually arriving at it. Pursuing happiness means to do what is good and right. Our forebearers would be puzzled at our quest to feel good and be happy. They were more concerned with the pursuit of happiness, which was entirely different than the temporal pleasures that are today mistaken for happiness.

The "happy" verses in the Bible, referred to as the Beattitudes, are often defined as "be attitudes," defining a state of mind and even a mood. Each line begins with the word "blessed," which means "happy." The happiness described there is far different than the happiness that people demand a right to, today.

If you have an online Bible source, such as E-Sword, you can do a convenient search of the word "blessed" in Psalms, Proverbs, and Matthew, which will reveal that the person who is to be happy, is the person who will do what is right, no matter what the risk. To be happy, it says, one must sometimes deny his natural impulses, go without instant gratification, or put effort into achieving something worthwile.

Pursuit of happiness may mean that you study something for awhile in order to know how to do it well. It can mean that you work hard in order to pay off some debts, or have an orderly home. It is a completely different concept than pleasure.

Those who wrote those words, "pursuit of happiness" probably in their wildest imaginations did not envision a nation full of pleasure seekers. To be sure, pursuing happiness in the way that the the beattitudes describe it, will bring about certain good pleasures such as peace of mind, appreciation of life, experiencing the beauty of nature, enjoyment of family, or ability to earn a good living and pay your way. It does not mean, however, the pursuit of bad pleasures, or things that harm yourself or others.

Some may say that it doesn't matter what they do, because they just want to be happy, but even in the old stories, people denied their own temporary pleasures in order to keep from offending others, or bringing a bad reputation to their parents or their nation.

Today, selfish behaviour is called "happiness" no matter how many people it hurts and no matter how many broken hearts it leaves on the path towards a person's pursuit of happiness (or rather, pleasure). I know of several people who are hurting their spouses, or hurting their parents and brothers and sisters by following their own selfish pursuit of pleasure. One man left his wife because he said, "I just want to be happy." In the mean time, his children and his wife are left alone, without provision, lonely for him, and needing his guidance and protection. Another woman I know has decided to pursue a lifestyle that is what is commonly called "alternative," because she "just wants to be happy." Her parents are grief stricken, knowing the future that their daughter has ahead of her will not be one that benefits future generations, or one that is beneficial to her, either. These people are pursuing pleasure, rather than happiness, and when you do that, it will be as elusive as trying to find the end of the rainbow.

One of the major differences between happiness and pleasure, is that pleasures are always temporary. In order to feed them, they must be engaged in constantly, and can even become addictive. There are good pleasures and bad pleasures, as you know.

The good pleasures are a result of the pursuit of happiness, in the way that it was meant to be. If one attains to the high code of living that brings about good character, marriage, home, family, personal business success, they reap the pleasures that come with those virtues, such as the comforts of a nice house, good food, gifts from your family, or success in business. If on the other hand, one pursues the pleasures of vice, it brings about emptiness rather than lasting happiness, resulting in a constant quest for more pleasure.

If you want pleasures, there are plenty to be had that will benefit you and not harm others. Instead of taking pills and substances to feel that certain "buzz" that is never lasting, try revamping your life. Get rid of unnecessary work by de-cluttering, go on a healthful eating and exercise program, read some good books, beautify your house and gardens, watch a sunset or sunrise, drink lemonade on the front porch in the summer, listen to the birds sing or hear a symphony, plan a new wardrobe, send out cards and gifts to people that might be benefitted from them, and even eat some chocolate. These are things that not only will not cause harm to other people, they will bring pleasure for a long time to come.

I suspect that today's society isn't as interested in the pursuit of true and lasting happines, which is really a lot of hard work, as they are in the pursuit of pleasure. In training our children, however, it is important to show them the difference between happiness, the pursuit of happiness, and good/bad pleasures.

Instead of lurid pleasures, a study of happiness yields references to effort and pursuit of worthwhile goals.


Pro 3:13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.


Psa 128:2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.

12 comments:

~ Tracy ~ said...

Thank you, Mrs. Sherman, for this wonderful article. I loved the picture you used as well. :)

Mrs Blythe said...

Amen. What a lovely post.

p.s. I love Jane Austen - well her books anyway!

Sarah said...

I love your blog. so many posts - like this one - speak directly from my heart. From other ones I learn many new things.

I feel happiness can only be found in the simple and honest way of life.

Greetings from Germany!

Mrs. Columb said...

This is such a thoughtful article! I think an entire book could be written on the difference between pleasure and happiness! However, I believe Christ summed it all up in one sentence: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." Thank you for such an inspiring and encouraging website!

Donna said...

Beautiful post....and so true. I know from experience. I was a pursuer of my happiness. The problem is that it only made me and the people around me miserable because I was so selfish. With His help, I've mended my ways and I am vastly contented with my situation; to borrow a phrase from Miss Austen!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing such a clear and cogent explanation of the difference between happiness and pleasure. What a thorough and sensible way to explain what "happiness" really is (and is not).

You are always a true Titus II teacher and example! For me (and I suspect many others) who did not have the example of a good feminine role model growing up your mentoring and instructions are invaluable. Thank you SO very much for your wisdom and your commitment to this ministry that is such a gift to so many! - Meg

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

There are plenty of good pleasures that we are intended to have, but in pursuit of pleasure, we often miss them!

~ Tracy ~ said...

Mrs. Sherman, thanks for stopping by my blog & leaving your little note! :)

Sonya said...

We will never be truly happy until we are doing what God wants us to do.

And as Mother Theresa said, "There is no need to search for happiness. Have love for others and you will be given it. It is a gift from God".

Sonya said...

Another thing I have learned is that if you want to be very happy, you must lead a simple, humble life. You must pray a great deal and you must not delve into your problems, but leave them to God to solve.

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

The founding fathers knew the importance of the pursuit of happiness. They did not intend for it to mean that everyone did as they pleased in spite of endangering themselves, endangering others or endangering the country. The pursuit of happiness was the freedom to pursue worthwhile goals in life.

Lady Lydia Speaks said...

Apologies for those whose comments didn't get posted. Blogger was giving me a little trouble and some of the posts wouldn't stick.

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