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2005-09-12 Happiness comes in various guises

The pursuit of happiness is surely the right of every human being on the planet. In the American `Declaration of Independence' (1776), the pursuit of happiness is listed as one of the unalienable rights, along with life and liberty.

 

Some individual states mention it in their constitutions also, but it is not in the US Constitution. Everyone is entitled to freedom of conscience, freedom from government interference, and the freedom to think, speak, express, write, assemble, worship and vote. Everyone should see life as it is, a mystery which is never fully understood, but never to be destroyed. The pursuit of happiness is defined in the `Declaration of Independence' as `the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation in any manner, not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity, or develop their faculties, so as to give them their highest enjoyment'.

 

The pursuit of happiness implies that a journey is taken, in this searching process. For the Greeks, happiness was incidental in the quest for knowledge en route to what was good and true. For the Romans, their excesses on the road to happiness may have contributed to the downfall of their empire. Long ago, people who got in the way of a nation's pursuit of happiness were more often than not exterminated, perhaps by beheading, or by being burned at the stake, or some other delightful means. Nowadays, people's pursuits to happiness come in infinite guises. Getting married and having a family are the obvious and most popular routes, but short-term or lifetime pursuits can mean anything from charity work to space travel.

 

Composers, linguists, wordsmiths, poets, and all those in a creative sphere are all in their own way pursuing happiness and fulfillment. A Christian can achieve happiness by being virtuous, or following an act of charity. Aerobic exercise can act as an antidote to depression or anxiety, and can thus lead to happiness. In sport, the pursuit can mean anything from simple days out with a rod, line and bait, to lowering your golf handicap, to fitness training and body sculpting.

Travelling abroad to see other lands and cultures, or travelling around your own land and getting to know your home nation can of course be most fulfilling. Amateur dramatics, ballroom dancing, crochet, needlework, gardening, home improvement, or like `The Royle Family' - sitting in and watching telly, can all, in their own simple ways, qualify as `pursuits to happiness'.

 

Some pursuits are self-improving; some are others-improving. And some, well, it is kind of hard to tell. Whether you decide to rescue pets, save donkeys, stop whale-hunting, ban bloodsports, boycott children's beauty pageants, or work for Amnesty, so long as you think your pursuit to fulfillment and happiness is justified, you ought to be allowed to follow your goals. But when does the pursuit to happiness become an obsession or an addiction, and harmful to yourself or others? There is an inherent danger in getting what we want, as often, "all we want is a little more than we will ever get". Workaholics, obsessive cleaners, alcoholics, anorexics, drug addicts, gamblers, porn-site addicts and criminals can all be seen as pursuits to happiness, gone horribly wrong. Michael Jackson's `Peter-Pan-pursuits', including his grotesque plastic surgery, have proven that happiness does not necessarily come from success.

 

Maybe people confuse the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of pleasure, the latter being usually more superficial. We no longer truly know what it is like to really want something, to save for something, as today we have it all on tap. Is delayed gratification , in this form, a thing of the past?

 

It is said by sociologists, that "the erosion of delayed gratification will eventually bring down this culture". The simple pleasure a child gets from bashing a biscuit tin with a wooden spoon has been relegated to the past, or has it?

 

Fundamentalists and suicide bombers, struggling to fulfill the will of Allah, manage to override their first natural instinct of survival, by pursuing their warped route to ultimate happiness. Happiness is infectious, so smile, don't scowl. Demonstrate happiness through your own life. Involve your friends in your pursuits. Perhaps make your pursuit less complex, more simple. For me, learning something new every day would make a good starting-point.