The Declaration of Independence stipulates that, “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.” [emphasis added] Since these rights have been established and given by God, they are self-evident, requiring no further explanation or support. Such rights are unalienable, meaning that they cannot be abridged or infringed upon in any way by government. However, “we may do something ourselves to forfeit the unalienable rights endowed by the Creator, but no one else can TAKE those rights from us without being subject to God’s justice.” An example of forfeiture may be committing a crime that requires incarceration. Now that our right to the pursuit of happiness is locked in exactly what is it?
Happiness is often equated with momentary or short-term excitement. “My favorite team won the Super Bowl!” “I got an ‘A’ in chemistry!” “She said ‘YES!’” There is no doubt about it; everyone enjoys that type of feel-good excitement. But it is based on emotion; it does not last. No one can live on a perpetual emotional high.
In contrast, a lifetime of long-term happiness has deeper spiritual roots that provide the support to withstand life’s challenges and hardships as well as celebrate the victories. That dimension of happiness reflects an inner joy anchored in a robust faith in God. Ever since Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God, every life has experienced occasional or sometimes long-term suffering. But a robust faith provides a clear vision of the light at the end of the tunnel and an appreciation of the character building opportunities associated with the hardships. The inner joy may be severely challenged but remains secure despite the pain.
Although my late wife never suffered any real physical pain, she did endure the progressive loss of physical mobility and mental capacity. Did her suffering have a purpose? Absolutely! Her experience dramatically and permanently changed my life and has had a rapidly expanding rippling effect on everyone with whom I come in contact. I explained to a rather large crowd at her memorial service that she and God gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received—the wonderful and glorious gift of tears. As a man, an engineer trained in logic, and the product of a rather stoic family, there was not much room for a manly expression of tears. But the wonderful and glorious gift of tears stirred by seven years of accommodating her progressive loss opened up to me whole new realms of life experience both emotionally and spiritually that were not previously available. I became much more sensitive to the needs of disabled people and virtually everyone else as well. Her experience also contributed greatly to the motivation to write this book.
Happiness is the Result of Virtuous Living
Here’s the deal: Ultimately, happiness is the result of living a virtuous life. How boring is that? Actually, a virtuous life is not boring at all; it is very rich, satisfying, and happy. During George Washington’s First Inaugural Address, he emphasized, “…there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists…an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness…” To President Washington, the link between “goodness and happiness” was plain and inescapable.” Further, Noah Webster found that, “If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad man to make and administer the laws.” A life based on virtues anchored deeply in the soul produces goodness of choices and actions that ignite a happy and joyful spirit within an individual and ultimately across cultures.