From the onset of the USA’s existence, happiness has been a central tenant of our reasoning and motivations. The inalienable right of the pursuit of said happiness has been the linchpin of much of western thought since those immortal words were first declared over two-hundred and thirty-three years ago. The problem is that while the right to pursue happiness is (generally speaking) as strong as ever it seems that the actual procurement of the commodity is a rare event.
Indeed, we only need to take a cursory glance to see that the circumstances of a predominate portion of society are far less than “happy.” The divorce rate is growing ever higher, in fact, I am told the county I work in, Fairfield County, Ohio, has an annual divorce rate of 70% compared to the number of marriages. That is for every ten marriage licenses applied for, there are seven petitions for divorce. So much for happiness there! And having a secure financial foundation does not seem to be an ultimate answer.
The recent public debacle of Tiger Woods goes to show that success, money, and prestige is not necessarily a contributing factor to one’s sense of happiness either. The aforementioned Fairfield County has some very affluent communities in it, and yet it demonstrates the fact that the number one reason for the breakdown of the family is money. So having money or not having it has little to do with the achievement of happiness.
In Woods’ case (not to mention any number of other political, social and religious figures), it appeared as if he lacked absolutely nothing, and yet he had the need of something else, something more. And all this begs the question: Why do we as human beings always seem to need something more than what we have, regardless of the successes we have notched on our proverbial belts? Why does the human heart grow so dissatisfied with the level of happiness that we have worked so hard to achieve?
There are nearly as many potential answers to this query as there are answerers. For those like myself, Augustine’s God shaped void supplies an appealing rejoinder. For those of a different ilk, a compulsion to charitable work seems to give some weight to balance the scales of perspective. And while the religious and non-religious points of views might be assumed as generally opposite it direction, these perspectives tend to have one common denominator: They both see true fulfillment, true happiness as being truly reached outside of ones own selfish paradigms. Happiness is not solely within, but rather is found in the investing of oneself in something other than itself.
So on this New Years Day, perhaps we can resolve to be less egocentric, less myopic, less focused on personal gains and goals, and take time to really invest ourselves in something bigger. If we can do that, I have a sneaking suspicion that not only happiness will surface to the top of our lives, but joy itself will become a constant and enduring companion.
Happy New Year!