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What do “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” even mean? Free to live my life and pursue happiness? Carl Rogers thought so. He thought whatever you wanted was justified. So he left his ill wife and pursued happiness.

John Stuart Mill said as long as it does not hurt anyone, we should go for it. Is that what it means?

They said men have been given inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “Inalienable” means unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor.

Have you ever thought of how bold this is? If it cannot be taken away or given away, this means, my life exists even if I am killed by another. I believe my soul will exist for eternity, but several of these writers were more Deists than Christians, so the soul belief is not necessarily what was meant here. The power of life. No matter what you do to me, I will be remembered, I will live on, the power of my life still exists.

Liberty? I wrote about freedom at this time last year: the difference between exterior freedom and interior freedom.

“The convict, prisoner of war, kidnapped child can engage in mental activity that takes them beyond their borders. Prayer, meditation, contemplation, thought, imagination, conversation, learning, teaching, exercise—whether with people or without—these are actions a person can take when faced with terrible circumstances. He decides not to be governed by the circumstances, but to make the most of it, to stay mentally and physically active and to let his or her mind be free.”

The pursuit of happiness? This seems the most elusive when it is 100 outside (or more as we have experienced), bills must be paid, children fed, errands run. They put the pursuit of happiness as something that cannot be taken from the possessor. That means, in any circumstance be it during a heat wave or endless rain, during the birth of a new baby or the loss of a child, during a wedding or at the end of a divorce, we can still seek happiness.

This is not the sort of happiness that comes and goes. That happiness is more accurately called pleasure. It feels good. Life does not feel good. So pleasure cannot be that happiness the pursuit of which no one can take from us. Money can be taken all too easily. In times of sickness or a really bad recession, we can not always pursue it. A good name? To be well-liked? People are fickle, particularly towards those well known and particularly online.

No, the sort of happiness is the one in which we find fulfillment, as a gravedigger in the cemetery, an x-ray technician, a massage therapist or a teacher. We can live a life with interior freedom, free from addictions and self-implemented rigid expectations about the rules of how one ought to live. It is when we are free to choose the best path, the moral path, the one that not only “does no harm,” but benefits the people around us. It is the sort of pursuit of happiness that turns terrible experiences into pearls of wisdom for the next generation. It is the sort of pursuit that creates a country that becomes an international model for religious liberty and human rights. It is a powerful achievement, full of mistakes, rarely done perfectly, but possible. It is the good life.

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Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash