The Pursuit of Happiness
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The Pursuit of Happiness<br> Special for the Fourth of July <p> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> IN 1776, A MAN named Thomas Jefferson wrote an extraordinary sentence. He said, -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.- Have you ever thought about that sentence? I mean how problematic it was, and how it led to everything that followed? <p>For starters, why was it self-evident? I mean, how many people spoke seriously about the pursuit of happiness before the Declaration of Independence? Jefferson quotes the Creator, but surely the Bible doesn-t talk much about liberty or happiness. <p>And then Jefferson says, -To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.- Isn-t it strange that he didn-t go on to say that governments should secure honesty, sobriety, health, harmony or any of a thousand other virtues you could name? <p>No, just: -life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.- <p>Of course, once someone voiced such an idea, it could not be ignored. History just had to play it out. We fought wars in the name of freedom and did research in the cause of life. We built freeways for the liberty of our automobiles and suburbs for the pursuit of our happiness. Here in the west, we built L.A. <p>In fact, so eager are we to fulfill Jefferson-s words, that we now work harder than any people on earth, including the Japanese. We invent microwave ovens and plasma TVs and 10,000-song music machines. We innovate. We exceed limits. We think out of the box. <p> Even when the nation was very young, this energy was sometimes a little troubling to outsiders. <p>In 1831, just 55 years after Jefferson wrote his famous sentence, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville travelled here and noticed the harried looks on the faces of busy Americans. He wrote: -It is a strange thing to see with what sort of feverish ardor Americans pursue well-being and how they show themselves constantly tormented by a vague fear of not having chosen the shortest route leading to it.- In the face of such pressure, he worried about our health. <p> Recently, it has become fashionable to speak about the end of the American Century. People say our influence around the globe has begun to decline. These days, visitors from more civilized places often point out our crowded prisons, our clumsy health care system, our continuing issues with race, and our lack of land use planning. They issue dire warnings. They say we-re distracted by our pleasures and our single-minded pursuit. They claim it all can-t last. <p>But surely they are wrong. Surely, we have that astounding sentence to see us through. And surely we just have to work a little harder. <p> Later tonight, when we gather in the dark for fireworks shows, the first part of Jefferson-s dream may also be fulfilled - I mean about having been created equal. Surely, when you look around at faces lit briefly in a sudden flash of red, white, or blue, neither wealth nor luck nor smarts will seem to matter: only this shared celebration of our remarkable life here and our restless determination to improve it. <p>For a moment, jumbled together on a parking lot or a football field, we will again be Jeffersonians, one and all: endowed with the same unalienable rights and bound together in the same grand enterprise. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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