Ironically, there is a faint undertone of anger in today's post which is neither intentional nor desired by me, but I'm feeling a bit pissy and vinegary today, so removing those undertones would be disingenuous, if not impossible.
Authenticity holds the trump card on this blog, so the undertones will stay, even though I would prefer to wait until I can purify them back to the love that fuels them.
On that note, we begin.
What has been the cost, do you think, of our freedom to pursue happiness?
Obviously America's birthday brought this question to mind this week, but for the sake of my international readers (and mostly for the sake of accuracy), let's not only count the lives, limbs and blood lost by Americans in defense of our inalienable rights.
And let's not only count the tears shed by those who have grieved or feared for those American Patriots.
Instead, let's count blood, tears, lives, sweat, energy, opportunities, money, relationships and limbs sacrificed throughout the globe, and from the beginning of time.
How much have previous generations forfeited so that their descendants (that's YOU and ME and US, Homefries) could be in a better position to PURSUE HAPPINESS?
I don't ask this question hypothetically but I'll leave it unanswered as if it were hypothetical because the answer could never be measured with an iota of accuracy.
The cost has been immense.
And now for the inevitable follow-up question: heyyyyyyyyyyyyy ARE YOU HAPPY?
I don't mean the Run-from-Your-Problems, Get-Drunk-on-a-Beach type of happiness: I'm asking whether you experience the real, fulfilled, soulful kind of happiness.
The kind of happiness you need to PURSUE.
They put that word in the Declaration of Independence for a reason, you know.
[As noted in Marci Shimoff's book Happy for No Reason (which I haven't read but know about through Brian Johnson), the word "pursuit," when the Declaration was written, didn't mean that you CHASED after something, but that you PRACTICED it.]
Are you PRACTICING happiness the best you know how? Or is there something you know in your gut would make you happy, but you are not doing it either because you don't feel like it or more likely because you are afraid?
You needn't answer that. I know. We're a lot alike.
The good news is that the path to rectifying this situation is simple, really. You already know the next step to take.
Just take one tiny, baby step.
And then another.
The reason this simple equation gets so royally f'd up is also simple: fear. It's fear that derails us into wasting time surfing Facebook or whatever is our Avoidance Tactic Du Jour.
Here are a few of the many fears that have stood between me and my happiest self, either in the past or today or both:
- Fear that seeking help is an admittance of weakness.
- Fear that if I don't accomplish enough, then I am not enough.
- Fear of being vulnerable to anyone including the man who pledged his life to me. Fear of relying on him.
- Fear of leaving a lucrative job that sucked my soul for the question mark inherent to self-employment.
- Fear that even if I have that difficult conversation, nothing will change.
- Fear of public embarrassment if I were to put my dreams "out there" and fail.
- Fear that the people who have disliked me (or merely didn't desire to be my best friend) have been "right" about me.
- Fear that my true, unmasked feelings in some situations mean I'm an asshole.
- Fear of exposing this list (or anything that feels personal): could it be used against me?
You get it: happiness is scary.
But what of my maternal grandfather? He left all he owned and loved in his war-torn home of french Algeria to board a crowded boat to America so that his future family could enjoy the freedoms of this sweet, sweet land of Liberté.
What of him?
What would he say if I told him, "Thanks for all you left behind for my freedom, Pepere. I know that going to bed at a reasonable hour makes a huge difference in both my overall happiness and in how I show up as a person in this world, but when midnight rolls around, I still really just don't feel like it."
What would he would say to that?
And what of my paternal grandfather? As a young man in the marines, he dodged bullets and climbed through piles of dead bodies to rescue wounded soldiers from the island of Iwo Jima in one of the bloodiest battles in American history.
Like so many soldiers throughout history, he put his life on the line so that all Americans could enjoy the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
What would HE say if I told him, "well, Gramps, I do know that an important part of me will die if I don't pursue the dreams in my heart, but I'm just too scared to pursue them because what if I FAIL? People might LAUGH."
What the F do you think he would say to THAT?
It doesn't matter if you know specifically what your foreparents have sacrificed in hopes that your life will be happier than theirs. Every soldier who has ever bled out on a battlefield in the name of freedom has skin in the game of your happiness.
As Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, "It is for us the living...to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. […] From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."
In regards to what YOU are currently doing to pursue happiness, do you think the millions who died to defend your right to pursue it would feel that they died in vain?
In a lot of ways, war looks different today than it did when my grandfather (and many others) scurried onto the beach at Iwo Jima. In a lot of ways, patriotism does, too.
I don't think our generation knows what it means to be patriotic today. We haven't been told.
Does it mean we are patriots if we wave flags at parades on the fourth of July? Are we patriotic if we can point out that a singer botched up the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner? What if we express hatred towards terrorists or use an image of the flag as our profile picture on National Holidays?
Does that count as patriotism?
I do not pose those questions facetiously: I think most of us really don't know.
Here's what I propose as one means of modern-day patriotism:
The pursuit of happiness is not only our inalienable right but also our moral obligation and our patriotic duty.
We owe it to the people who have sacrificed before us, to the people who love us now, and to every person (living or future) whose life we can possibly impact to PURSUE HAPPINESS.
Think of happiness like a tide: when one boat rises, we all rise.
I know it is scary to take those small steps towards soul-fulfililng happiness.
They scare me too.
Fortunately this is not only the land of the free but also the home of the brave. Courage runs thick in our blood.
And those who have sacrificed before us shall not have sacrificed in vain.
Happy birthday, America.
What's the small step you can take today in pursuit of happiness?
Hint: you've probably already promised yourself you would do it.