"The pursuit of happiness"

Is "the pursuit of happiness" nothing more than self-seeking? What is it that lifts this pursuit above selfishness to genuine satisfaction in being and doing good?

Late one Friday afternoon I was walking across a college campus on my way to practice on an organ. The campus was very quiet, nearly deserted, and I found myself feeling lonely and vaguely unsatisfied. It suddenly seemed that my life was all work and no fun. I felt left out of something special. It was a feeling that came from nowhere, certainly not springing from any obvious dissatisfaction in my life.

Then two students passed me. They were on their way to a party. And I remembered that it was a Friday night. I remembered the excitement of college weekends. A car with its stereo system turned up, party clothes, a home basketball game, a good movie, romance—all the fun and adventure of college life. Then suddenly my thoughts were filled with typical images from advertisements, television, movies—images that hadn't even been a part of my life when I was in college, but were unsettling, nonetheless, with their lure of happy times "out there" that I was missing by going to do my practicing.

I laughed a little at myself as I sat down at the organ. I had fallen once again for "Friday night restlessness." I enjoyed having fun as much as anyone, and playing a beautiful organ was a source of great satisfaction and enjoyment to me. I wasn't "missing out" on anything. But I also started thinking about happiness in general. It seemed like a good thing to be happy. Certainly it was better than being unhappy. It seemed logical to choose careers and activities that make us happy. I thought of all the attractive smiles used to sell products and of the "happy face" stickers that were attached to everything a few years ago. We seem determined to be cheerful. The ideal of happiness is, in fact, so basic to Western culture that the writers of the American Declaration of Independence listed "the pursuit of Happiness" as one of man's "unalienable Rights."

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July 6, 1987

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