State of Mankind

A New Way Of Thinking

The Pursuit of Happiness


“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 these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

                These words have been quoted so many times in our country, that we may not stop to actually ponder the meaning of them anymore.  Life and Liberty are somewhat easily explained, but what was actually meant by the “pursuit of happiness”?  We will examine the historical context of these words, discuss their actual meaning, and how they relate to us today.  In doing so, we can come to a fuller knowledge of how freedom should operate today.

                The history of the terms “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” comes from John Locke, one of the Founding Fathers favorite philosophers.  He described these as “life, liberty, and property.”  Were our Founding Fathers against property rights and thus replaced the word?  Or is there another explanation?  Reading the words of Locke will help to understand:

                “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common [as the gift from God] to all men, yet every man has a “property” in his own “person.”  This, nobody has any right to but himself.  The “labour” of his body and the “work” of his hands, we may say are properly his.  Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property…

                “…Thus this law of reason makes the deer that [property of the Indian] who hath killed it; it is allowed to be his goods who hath bestowed his labour upon it, though, before, it was the common right of every one” (Locke, Second Essay Concerning Civil Government).

                So Locke describes the right to property as the right to ownership of that which a person invests his own person (be it time, work, talent, etc.) to acquire or create.  How does this description fit with the actual meaning of “pursuit of happiness”?  To pursue is a verb defined as:  “To strive to gain; seek to attain or accomplish (an end, object, purpose, etc.)”.  Pursuit, then, is investing our person toward something.  Happiness, in this sense, would be the end which we are pursuing.  Who can define happiness?  Happiness is one term that can mean anything to anyone.  Therefore, happiness must mean whatever end is gained from the pursuit.  Pursuit is our means, happiness is our ends.  Pursuit is what we choose to do, happiness is the results of the choices and efforts we make.  Now it is clear that by using the word “happiness,” the Founders didn’t limit us to merely owning property, but to owning the results of our choices.  One might say that he has a God-given right to sit and play video games all day long.  Along with this God-given right, is the ownership of the results of that decision.  He may have gained some eye-hand coordination.  He may win the game.  He may also be penniless and hungry, depending on others who chose to pursue a living to help him out.

                How does this affect freedom today?  Today, much of society has lost sight of the freedom understood by Locke or our Founding Fathers.  Many people feel that they should be free to choose whatever seems pleasurable at the moment, and that society must be responsible to protect them from the consequences of their decisions.  On the contrary, a free society cannot take away any man’s pursuit of happiness.  To take food or money from the person who invested him or herself in acquiring it and give it to someone whose choices and ends were different is the antithesis of freedom.  The Founders considered this oppression.

                The inevitable question then arises, “What about the person who works or tries to work all day, but doesn’t gain enough to subsist?”  Who might take care of this person?  The answer from our Founders and the Constitution would be, “Anyone but the Federal Government.”  However, to take it a step farther, this is the decision, in the end, which decides whether a society can be a free society or not.  For a free society to survive, there must be love between people to the extent that neighbors don’t let neighbors go hungry or cold.  Brotherly love is the only real answer.  Any other road leads to oppression of one person or another.

                Thus, the next time we may be tempted to complain about taxes or the inefficiency of government or why the government hasn’t bailed us out of our current predicaments, the real, long term question we need to ask is, “Do I love my neighbor enough to sacrifice for him?”  What have I done recently to help someone?  Whether or not we can maintain ourselves as a free society depends much more on the answers to these questions than on any political program or election.  It will also be understood that in serving others, we will most likely achieve the happiness we pursue!

5 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Troy B.

     /  April 23, 2011

    Loved this little essay! I would, however, like to present a different way of looking at things.

    I believe the traditional view of property to be flawed. So much so that I struggle to find a word that would better describe the relationship between persons and things. For me a serious question arises in Locke’s claim that a man or woman has the right to ownership in the acquisition of things in which he or she has invested time, labor, talents, knowledge, etc. How can we know if the time, labor, knowledge, or talents are truly his or hers to begin with? No person may create, earn, build, or discover without depending on others to achieve those things.

    For example, the knowledge I posses has in large part come to me through the labor, time, talents, and ideas of countless teachers, grandparents, book publishers, etc. who have invested their time to ‘build’ me. Furthermore, I can only invest my labor into my profession by using roads that have been built by taxpayers, tools that have been manufactured by others, in a building constructed by others, under the auspices of laws and government regulation formulated by others, and most importantly, using a body that was created and is currently maintained by others.

    Undoubtedly someone will bring up the point that through buying and selling, the ‘rights’ to the tools I use, the books I read, the roads I travel on, etc. are transferred to me. Also, the time my parents and others have invested in me were freely given because they chose to spend time with me, and were thus gifted to me. I say OK, but we come back to the original question, “Was it theirs to give me or sell to me to begin with?” We might argue well yes, it was duly transferred to them by their parents and teachers. Ok, but we can repeat this process ad nauseum until we arrive back to Adam and our Father in Heaven. God still holds title to all of the earth, everything in it, and all of us.

    ( I am going to have to break here. My kids are in the room and I can’t concentrate, but I have a lot more to say on this.)

    • Brinton

       /  April 24, 2011

      I am very interested in this perspective. I definitely agree that we need to remember all those who have helped us get where we are, and that all things are owned by God. Before jumping to any conclusions I would like to get the rest of your thoughts.

      • Troy B.

         /  April 24, 2011

        For me to properly express my views here it may be necessary to write my own essay. Give me a day or two to gather my thoughts and express them concisely.

        By the way, love this website and the fact you are open to discuss these things!

      • I would Love to take care of my brother. I would love to get rid of any beaancls on my charge cards. To afford to buy a new car for my transportation. To sign-up all my relatives, cats, dogs, horses, and all my friends to fruitPlus+. So I know they were the healthiest they could Take A Quantium leap and help those in our society, that were uncapable to help themselves!


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