Why the 4th of July Makes Us Red, White, and BLUE

It’s the 4th of July and we have learned the pursuit of happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

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 those are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We celebrate the birth of our nation on the 4th of July, when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and established a revolutionary form of government that the world had never witnessed. And, yet, this very declaration of independence has planted the seeds of unhappiness.

Framing happiness as an unalienable right puts happiness on a pedestal as the highest of human callings, a perfect state of being for Americans. We are supposed to be happy all the time, living in a veritable Garden of Eden before the fall.

The founding fathers unwittingly changed happiness from a possibility, something to be aspired to, and something to be enjoyed. They transformed it into something to be pursued at all costs, a mandate. Smile! Turn that frown upside down. Count your blessings, for goodness sake!

The unintended consequence of the pursuit of happiness is that we often never quite arrive. We begin to blame ourselves if we’re not happy, as if somehow we have failed the happiness test. We push ourselves to hide our shadow emotions and when we experience them, we begin to feel ashamed or guilty for not being stronger, more resilient, or more optimistic. Who am I not to be happy, we ask ourselves?

We judge ourselves by the wrong metrics and hold ourselves up to unrealistic standards. And, as we feel increasingly deficient, we begin to feel cheated. We sense that somehow we are not getting our fair share. We are not getting what is due to us. We begin to feel envy and jealousy for what we perceive others have that we do not. We limit our happiness because we cannot share in the good fortunes of others, confident that our turn will come. Or, safe in the knowledge that behind every curtain there are shadows. My mentor is a former Fortune 50 CEO. He is very handsome. I presume he is very rich, with a big house, nice cars, and perhaps a vacation home. I imagine he travels first class. And he suffers from Type I diabetes. Would I trade wealth and power for a life-threatening illness? Probably not.

Jealousy and envy trap us in a cycle of greed and consumerism. We strive for things that are not in fact synonymous with happiness—the perfect job, the perfect spouse, the McMansion, the Ferrari, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. We spend money on things we can’t afford, believing they will make us happy. We focus on acquiring more and protecting what we have. We neglect to protect what matters most, our relationships and our happiness. And, when the bill arrives, we feel cheated and the cycle deepens. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t aspire to things, just that they are not the end-all, be all if you don’t have fundamental, internally grounded resilient happiness.

Life could be a comedy of errors, and, yet, what hasn’t killed us makes us stronger. Consider defining happiness as a way of being that we cultivate from the inside. Think of it as a state of being that creates ease not dis-ease on the journey of life. Hold it as a state of beingness that we can build to be resilient in the face of external challenges.

How do you do that? You are invited to join The Happiness Society (Facebook @ResilientHappiness). On Sunday, July 2, we posted a recording of our First Sunday Happiness Call. The podcast will guide you in exploring the parameters of what really makes us happy.

Remember the words of the Buddha: “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Light your candle and share the happiness with the world.

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