Did Obama Get It Wrong With The Pursuit Of Happiness?

"Gordon Bryan" "pursuit of happiness"I was struck by something when I watched Barack Obama’s second inauguration (well, his 4th actually!) No, it wasn’t Beyonce scything through the Star Spangled Banner, but a phrase he used more than once in his speech…

It was Obama’s second inauguration speech – it was actually his 4th inauguration, which is going some since US Presidents can only serve 2 terms! For his first one there was an error made so it had be done again the next day, and for the second one, deadlines meant he had be sworn in on a Sunday, and had the public one on the Monday.

The phrase that caught my attention comes from the Declaration of Independence, but in the areas I love to write about – goal achievement, self improvement and personal development – it’s a phrase laced with hidden danger.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Those are inalienable rights of all humans according to that declaration, and Obama was using them to emphasise what the United States should stand for.

Plenty has been written about America’s attitude to right to life, and right to liberty, but I want to talk about the pursuit of happiness.

It could be said that the pursuit of happiness sums up the American dream – someone can turn up on America’s shores with no more than a dollar in their pocket, and the US system of capitalism and reward for hard work can take that same person however high or far they want to go.

Job prospects, marriage, children, freedom of speech, the whole works.
Sounds great, right?

Well, yes, it sounds great, but it’s when I consider ‘pursuit of happiness’ from a different angle that my point comes to mind…

If you are pursuing happiness, it implies two thing –

Firstly it implies that happiness will appear when you cross some finish line in the future – you’ll be happy when you get that car, you’ll be happy when you get that promotion, you’ll be happy with that fat pay check.

I’ve never been a fan of having ‘happiness’ as one of your goals to go after, in fact I say you *shouldn’t* do it, and the reason brings me to the second thing implied by pursuing happiness, which is that you aren’t happy now!

I do accept that people might say to me that they are happy, that their pursuit of happiness is more about maintaining it rather than creating it.

Yes, ok, but I don’t think that reflects the majority, who think that happiness *does* come in the form of material possessions, that happiness *does* only come at some point in the future.
Happiness is a state of mind, and can be enjoyed right now!

I know we all have our problems, frustrations and obstacles, and some people do have real hardship, but if you are reading this online, then you are in a far better position than vast swathes of people in the world.

Don’t forget the abundance you have right now – a roof over your head, food on the table, fresh water, electricity, money coming in, and so on. Allow yourself to be happy right now.

So, was Obama wrong to mention the pursuit of happiness? No, he didn’t come up with that declaration back in the 1770s, and happiness is not a bad concept to hold up. Be careful though, that your efforts to go after happiness don’t obscure your view of the happiness already there to enjoy today.

That’s it for today – do let me know what think!

‘Til Next Time,
Health & Happiness,
P.S. I write about happiness often in my motivational book ‘Transform Your Life in 21 Days!’ – you can read it on your kindle right now!
P.P.S. You might also enjoy another article – Goal Achievement – Is Step Number 23 Keeping You Stuck?

Do leave a comment!

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  • Yes, Gordon, I love this! Exactly how I see it! Reminds me of a sign I saw in a local shop on what looked like driftwood, “Happiness is a journey, not a destination”. There is almost always something to be grateful for, even if, as I was discussing with a friend a few weeks ago, it’s that in this country we are not being shot at when we go out of our houses. And I do believe that, if we look deep inside, we have a source of joy which is there for us to tap into at any time. You’ve reminded me how happy I am right now with your post, and I thank you for that! H

    • Thanks Harriet,
      I think because the media likes to focus on bad news, and the most popular TV dramas thrive on bad news and misery (see a pattern here?), it seems a natural state to be in, that actually being happy is seen as decadent or self indulgent. Happiness can be found all around us, and there’s nothing wrong with soaking it up!

    • too true Roy – why are there seemingly so many requirements for happiness? You have to be doing this, you have to be doing that…I get equally tired of it!

    • Hi Anita,
      The key point here is you saying ‘it is a great state of mind to be in’- not ‘it will be a great state of mind’ or ‘it would be a great state of mind’!

  • Hmmm, a very interesting point indeed! How cool that you caught that and explored it..I think you’re absolutely right! How can happiness be a goal if it is a choice? It’s something that (FORTUNATELY!) you can have/manifest/feel/focus on NOW. That’s so powerful! When I start to feel like a debbie downer, I make a list of 20 things that make me feel abundant, and a lot of times, I go over! It changes my mood immediately. High fives on another super post, Gordino! 🙂

    • A debbie downer! Ha, that made me chuckle, I do enjoy your style. Making a list of things that make you feel abundant is a great tip – great because it’s simple, great because it works.
      Thanks for stopping by,

    • Don’t have to pursue it Denys, it’s right here!
      btw, I do obviously know what you mean – yes, the ‘free’ world has so much more opportunity, but chasing opportunity doesn’t mean chasing happiness!

  • I TOTALLY agree that happiness is really just a state of mind, and I would add that the harder you work to “find” it or “pursue” it, the harder it is to locate. Some days it’s easy to be happy because events fall into place in a pleasant way. Other days are frustrating and it’s hard to feel content. It’s the human condition, but if our attitude is positive, happiness should not be a stranger.

    • Hi Amy,
      ‘if our attitude is positive, happiness should not be a stranger’… I love that! It’s why I wrote in my book about attitude being one of the 4 magic words beginning with ‘A’
      Thanks for the visit from the vomit!

  • I agree as well. It goes along with finding peace by living in the present moment rather then in the past or the unknown future which either one can bring sadness and fear.

    • Like to add about the pursuit of happiness. a quote from President Lincoln “People will be about as happy as they make their minds up to be” If you are in pursuit of happiness you are making a statement that you are presently not happy. Which leaves acquiring happiness by setting a goal that is met at a certain time. For that to happen it will actually be in the present moment when it does happen and the person would have to make up his mind and be satisfied that his goal was met and therefore can be happy. Take the confusion out of it and you have the same thing. A decision to be happy.

      • Yes Ruben, I like the idea of taking the confusion out of it! As well as making the decision to be happy, it’s important to also ‘allow’ yourself to be happy!

    • Yep, no point in leaving happiness in the past or expecting it in the future. The same can also be applied to deal with sadness and fear while we’re at it!

  • I like to think of happiness as a wrapped present that can be unwrapped any time we like and, if we choose not to unwrap it, it doesn’t stop it being there.

    • Ooh I like it Barbara!
      I may well be using that in due course – btw is there a site you want to link to from your comment?
      G 😉